E114 – December 2005

Editorial

Priscilla, Lydia and Phoebe

Jesus’ Challenge to Exclusivism, Legalism and Ritualism

Ever Learning

Jesus and Paul

Sin in the Flesh

The Kindness and the Severity of God

Freedom Won and Lost

Let Sects and Parties Fall

Make Poverty History Update

Review

The Dignity of Difference

Editorial

Anger

I understand that our word anger comes from the Latin root ang, a narrowing, thus referring to the choking sensation associated with rising emotion. Anger is extreme or passionate displeasure. The LXX and NT use two words orge a thrusting or up surging, and thumos a boiling up. In the NT thumos generally refers to human emotional reaction, whilst orge is reserved for the ‘breaking out’ of the wrath of God in punishment. The common Hebrew words for anger or being angry, ’aph and ’anaph, refer to the nostril and thus to snorting with emotion, while chemah, to be hot, depicts anger as a kind of burning. All these descriptions of anger give a very vivid picture of its nature.

Is it right to be angry? Could being angry with our neighbours and with God also be part of the Christian life?

How could any of us dare to be angry with God? Well there is certainly at least one reason that might lead us to do so. In the course of our spiritual life are we not continually learning more clearly what our God is like? Is there any one of us who could say that we have never had what William Temple called ‘unworthy conceptions of God’? It should not then be surprising that we get angry with a God who is misconceived and misrepresented by us. It may well be that we are just complaining because of our own misunderstanding of the nature of our God and our anger is part of the learning process that helps us to see more clearly what God is really like.

And equally, dare we be angry with our neighbour, our brother or sister? How could we when Mt 5:21-26, in the Sermon on the Mount, tells us that anger is tantamount to murder? 1 John 3:15 tells us that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, suggesting that there is a link between anger and hatred, which we will consider in a few moments. Thirdly, James 1:19-20 advises us to be slow to anger for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. All three of these quotes, taken together, could be used to outlaw anger from the life of the Christian, seeing anger as a purely negative behaviour with nothing to commend it. This might be further emphasized by knowing that the Seven Deadly Sins include anger: they are pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth.

However, we get a somewhat different suggestion from Eph 4:25-26 where we are advised to be angry but not to sin. We are not to let the sun go down while we are still angry nor to give place to the devil. This suggests that anger is not necessarily sinful and that there might well be a positive side to it which we should not ignore or underrate.

Returning to Mat 5, we note that the AV speaks of being angry without a cause, as though it is not unreasonable to be angry if there is a cause. Apparently some MSS have ‘without a cause’ and others do not. NIV keeps ‘without cause’ and NEB speaks of anyone who nurses anger against his brother. All of this would suggest that there may be good grounds for thinking that the anger spoken of here has to be qualified in some way and that all cases of anger do not come under the ban. Tom Wright speaks of smouldering anger here and asks: How can anger be defused and prevented from spilling over into violence? Every time you decide to let your anger smoulder on inside you, you are becoming a little less than fully human, you are deciding to belittle yourself. Jesus’ advice is to be reconciled and make friends. (We might ask whether this part of the Sermon on the Mount is just about relations between individuals or is there a sense in which it applies to nations, Israel and the Romans for example?)

Anyway, NIV, NEB and Tom Wright all suggest that the anger being spoken of is not simply an isolated action or angry reaction, but is concerned with attitude that is nursed or allowed to smoulder and is likely therefore to result eventually in an outburst that might well involve violence

Now, the same Jesus who gave us the Sermon on the Mount is presented to us in Mark’s Gospel as being angry on three occasions. Firstly, in Mk 3:5, at the healing of a man with a withered hand in the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath, Jesus looked on them with anger being grieved for the hardness of their hearts. (NB Matthew makes no mention of anger and Luke transfers the anger to the Pharisees.) Secondly, in Mk 10:13–16, when the crowd bring little children and the disciples rebuked them, Jesus was displeased (NIV indignant). And thirdly, in Mk 11:12-25, Jesus visits the Temple, (see also Mat 21:12-13; Lk 19:45-48) and casts out those who sold and bought and overthrew the tables of the money changers, usually taken as a display of anger. John 2:13-17 tells us that Jesus made a scourge of cords and cast out both sheep and oxen. This incident was an acted parable in which Jesus warns that the Temple, as currently operated, needed to cease its activities and should take the warning that if radical reform was not applied then destruction was likely to be the result.

On these three occasions at least, Jesus showed displeasure, indignation, anger. On each occasion it is not difficult to see that it arose because of the slowness with which Israel, and even his own disciples, perceived his mind, the consequence being that others were likely to suffer because of it – the disabled, the children and the Gentiles for example. (The disciples were of course in the middle of a learning process that would revolutionize the way they thought about God and his purpose.)

If it was wrong to allow anger, in the sense of ‘wishing others dead’, and maybe going as far as carrying out our wish, being totally negative and destructive, these occasions on which Jesus himself manifested anger, would suggest that there is a positive side to anger which we should not be suppressing just because we tend to think generally of anger as being sinful.

Love involves the arousal of both mind and body, but so does anger, and in this sense at least there is a close affinity between the two. Anger and love are perhaps not as far apart as we might at first imagine. From a superficial reading of Mat 5:22 and James 1, we might easily conclude that anger should have no part in the Christian life and this is what some Christians think and teach. In doing so they tend to put love and anger at opposite extremes of the spectrum of human emotions, treating them virtually as opposites. But the opposite of love is not anger. The opposite of love is indifference, apathy, not caring, hatred.

As humans, we are all vulnerable to others and so in a position to challenge others in the name of love to take notice of us, to care and not to be apathetic or indifferent. It is not anger but hatred which is the enemy of human peaceful coexistence. ‘Being angry’ is not necessarily in itself a direct instigator of any single action, such as murder for example. Anger may well, of course, prompt us to be aggressive but anger does not necessarily cause aggression in a mechanistic sense. We need to and can break the link that so often turns anger into destructive aggression. We need to learn to use anger to probe for truth, which may not be easy to come by. We need to use it to challenge and change the complacent injustices of life. We need to develop an anger that creates love rather than destroys it. Too often anger seems to head for enduring hostility and to a hatred which finds satisfaction only in revenge. Anger of the right kind shows that we care, that we are not indifferent or apathetic.

The experience of abuse or threats of any kind make us feel angry, which may lead us to retaliate in kind. But then the process only tends to snowball and gets out of hand. We need to acknowledge anger both in others and ourselves as not necessarily a bad thing. But, before allowing it to develop into retaliation, we need to stop nursing it, allowing it to smoulder, which is bound to affect our attitudes to others and will only end in belittling ourselves.

Above all, we should not deny it, rather accept it as a common human reaction, but before reacting, we should seriously endeavour to clarify what it is that makes us angry. We are too often quick to blame others or the church when perhaps the true source of the anger is in ourselves. Students in the Christian Union at the school I used to teach at used to say that when you point a finger at others remember that there are three fingers pointing back at yourself.

If we are to learn to be mature in relation to anger, we need to recognize it for what it is and deal with it before it gets out of control, (deal with it personally if that’s all that’s necessary but with others if we feel that they too are involved). Denial and ‘bottling it up’ are not the way to achieve mastery of it and so ensure that the anger promotes loving purposes and does not become destructive of love. Anger is an emotion springing from a present event – there is an immediacy about it – it is not cultivated, not planned in advance with destructive intentions. Hatred, however, is consciously sustained or nurtured, has an ongoing destructive intent towards a person and resists attempts at resolution and reconciliation. So anger must be distinguished from an attitude of hostility. Hatred is a consistent policy of devaluing whoever or whatever is the object of the hate. It always tends to interpret our perceptions of others as aggressors or potential aggressors. Whereas hatred and hostility are essentially destructive, anger can be used constructively. Anger expressed (in love) is a mode of taking others seriously. It is essentially emotional and cannot be detached, but does need to be controlled if loving relationships are to be maintained. We need to work towards a balance between reason and emotion which allows anger to be used, not just to fight or to flee, but to deepen love and friendship and to overcome injustice.

One writer has said that few love or hate deeply – most tend to suppress their feelings in the interest of keeping an uneasy peace within and around them. Refusal to feel deeply and live fully is perhaps the result of an unrecognized hatred for life itself.

Hate and Love are two ways of living: to hate is to break and attempt to destroy, whereas to love is to create, to bring new things into being. Paradoxically, men often destroy the thing they love and preserve what they say they hate. At the heart of Christianity there is a threefold injunction: to love God, neighbour and self. All three need to be in good order, working together. In any human relationship disordered love can banish true love and replace it with one of love’s counterfeits, for example, possessiveness or dominance, both of which are forms of hate even if not recognized as such. In misplaced zeal for Christianity some Christians encourage their fellows to hate the world that God loves; but to hate what He loves is to Hate him.

Jesus was no passive victim enacting a foreordained death to pay God’s penalty for sin. He challenged fearlessly and with great passion the easy assumptions of a religion which thought it could assess sin and apportion blame. He forthrightly denounced those authorities, civil or religious, who substituted idolatry in some form for true religion, all of which, not surprisingly, resulted in his crucifixion. Jeremiah (6:11 GNB) has ‘Your anger against them burns in me too, Lord, and I can’t hold it in any longer.’ Like Jeremiah, Jesus felt within himself the fire of God’s anger.

Are we making our anger work for God and for Jesus? In Eph 3:10, Paul says that God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. Doesn’t this say plainly that one of the main functions of the church is to show God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities of this world? How is this purpose to be accomplished if not by Christians making their anger at the mismanagement of this world known in high places? Like Jesus, we ought to be prepared to speak up for the weak and the poor, those suffering oppression, and show now, in this world, the practical love that will honour the name of our Saviour.

It is impossible to imagine a person incapable of anger. On the other hand it is terrifying to picture one whose anger is ungovernable. A man of deep love and loyalties is more likely to be angry than one who cares little for any person or institution. In light of what I have said so far, a Christian dare not advocate the avoidance of anger at all costs. It would be subhuman for anyone not to be moved by cruelty, deceit, treachery or readiness to defraud or destroy the weak. The call going out from many Christian and Humanitarian organisations to governments and international financial organisations is for trade justice to help lift people out of poverty. Shouldn’t we be channelling at least some of our anger in such directions, supporting the Trade Justice Movement and joining others in speaking up for the world’s poor and oppressed? Doesn’t God care for them? Doesn’t our Saviour care for them? Where does that leave us?

Let us learn to avoid that form of anger that ends up with hostility and hatred but let us not stifle that form of anger that stimulates love of God, practical love of our neighbour and love of ourselves.

Les Boddy

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Priscilla, Lydia and Phoebe

In the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, we read about several prominent sisters who gave valuable support to the apostles as they sought to preach to a wider world. Three of these women were Priscilla, Lydia and Phoebe, all of whom had a considerable influence on the growth of the Christian church.

Lydia

Paul had been forbidden to preach in the province of Asia but answered the call to go to Macedonia. There he met Lydia, a native of Thyatira, and it has been suggested that hers was the privilege of introducing the Gospel to her homeland. That is speculation but there is no doubt that a church was founded in Thyatira for they received a letter from our Lord in the Revelation.

The modern name for Thyatira is Akhisar which is in Anatolia, western Turkey. A quick look at a map shows that the town is a similar distance from both Troas, a Roman colony, and Ephesus. These were ports with important sea routes to Greece and Acts 16:11-12 notes that it took Paul two days to reach Greece by sea from Troas. Lydia would have taken advantage of these routes in her business life. By crossing the Aegean Sea, she had access to both Asian and European markets for the sale of her expensive purple and crimson cloth. Whether or not Lydia was based at Thyatira and travelled with her wares or whether she had moved permanently to Philippi is not stated.

Commentaries take it for granted that Lydia was a rich widow. She was the head of a household which may have included family and servants. Although a Gentile, she had probably come into contact with the thriving Jewish community in Thyatira for she had become ‘a worshipper of God’ (Acts 16:14). Lydia was living in Philippi which, being a Roman colony, enjoyed a privileged status equal to the cities of Italy. The Philippians boasted about this connection calling themselves ‘us Romans’ (Acts 16:21). It was on an important trade route, the Via Egnatia, and commanded the road between east and west – again we find this link between Europe and Asia.

When Paul arrived at Philippi, he found no large Jewish community where he could begin his preaching. One reason for this may be that Philippi had followed the example of Rome and had expelled its Jews. So, on the Sabbath, Paul went to a spot by the river, outside the city walls, and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One, of course, was Lydia. The Lord opened her heart and she was baptised, together with her household. Lydia had become the first European convert.

Now the character of Lydia becomes clear. Her first request was to ask the brethren, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke, to stay in her home. Lydia’s home became a base for a house group and the focus of the first Christian church in Europe (Acts 16:40).

The church at Philippi became known for its generosity and hospitality as Paul takes care to mention. When he and Silas were released from prison after the earthquake, they went to Lydia’s house where they would have received every kind of loving, tender care and also, as is noted, ‘encouragement’ before they left for Thessalonica.

Paul’s letter to the Philippian church remarks on the care which Paul had received there. The brethren and sisters there also continued to send money to Paul whenever he needed it; Lydia was no doubt up there giving from her considerable wealth.

Help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow-workers. (Phil 4:3)

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. (Phil 4:15-20)

And now, brothers and sisters, [the original allows for this] we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, the overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. (II Cor 8:1-5)

Paul and Silas moved on from Philippi but the foundations had been well laid and Lydia’s home was very prominent in the life of this new ecclesia.

Priscilla

Some time later, Paul and Silas arrived in Corinth, the seat of government for Achaia. This was on an isthmus with access to both the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. Boats used to be hauled across the narrow strip of land (where there is now a canal) and, in this way, they could make the best time on their journeys between Ephesus and Rome. Corinth was a buzzing, cosmopolitan, immoral, pagan centre of trade with a bad reputation. In Corinth anything could happen.

Priscilla and her husband Aquila are introduced to us in Acts 18. At that time they were living in Corinth, having been forced by the Emperor Claudius to leave Rome. Aquila was a Jew but commentaries suggest that Priscilla may have been a highborn Gentile. It seems likely that they had been converted to the Christian faith while they were living in Rome.

Paul was a tentmaker, as were Priscilla and Aquila, and we read that Paul went to lodge and to share companionship with them. Paul stayed in Corinth for ‘a good while’ while the new ecclesia was established and, when he left, his good friends travelled with him. They went to Syria and then to Ephesus where they stayed while Paul travelled on to Jerusalem. In Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla again welcomed brethren and sisters to their home.

Aquila and Priscilla salute you [Corinthians] much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (I Cor 16:19)

We read about the arrival in Ephesus of Apollos, ‘an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures’. He spoke boldly in the synagogue concerning the baptism of John but Aquila and Priscilla were well able to respond to this. Not only did they expound the way of God ‘more perfectly’ but they also welcomed Apollos into their home in their usual hospitable way. When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila were at Ephesus and Paul sent them a personal greeting. However, they apparently returned to Rome at some point as we learn from the Epistle to the Romans.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus who have for my life laid down their necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. (Romans 16:3)

We do not know when or how they risked their lives for Paul but news of their care for him had obviously spread throughout the area.

Phoebe

One of the ports for Corinth was Cenchrea and it was here that Phoebe lived. We know that the Apostle Paul visited the town for it was there that he took a special vow ‘having shorn his head’ (Acts 18:18). There is no doubt that he met Phoebe and that she was a great help to him. She would have known all about the conversion of Crispus, the insurrection of the Jews and the impartiality of Gallio. Phoebe is not mentioned in this chapter of Acts but we can read a lot into the references to her in Romans 16.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people including me. (Romans 16:1-2)

Some have limited Phoebe’s role to the purely domestic and she would certainly have been willing to help in any way she could. But she seems to have had a much more prominent role in the Corinthian church. The DIA gives ‘a servant of the congregation’ and the NEB claims that she held ‘office in the congregation’. The NRSV says that she was ‘a deacon in the church’ while the REB gives a ‘minister in the church’. Phoebe was certainly held in high esteem.

The epistle to the Romans, which gives a very deep insight into Paul’s understanding of the Gospel, was written in Corinth by the hand of Tertius and the commentaries seem to agree that it was taken to Rome by Phoebe. It was hoped that Paul would be able to follow her to Rome shortly afterwards. Imagine the responsibility which was laid on Phoebe’s shoulders. She had to embark on a voyage to Rome and find her way to the brethren and sisters there. Paul was a seasoned traveller and he had Phoebe’s welfare in mind when he asked the Roman brethren and sisters to do whatever they could to help her, just as she had always been ready to help the Corinthian church.

So, here we have three prominent sisters, converts to Christianity, who, almost certainly, helped to make up a network of care and protection for the apostles as they travelled across the world.

• They lived near the important trade routes.

• They were experienced travellers.

• They were very close to the leading brethren of the day.

• They made their homes available when appropriate.

• Some of these sisters contributed financially to the work of the apostles.

They probably knew each other too. Certainly Phoebe and Priscilla were at Corinth and possibly Rome at the same time and it is highly unlikely that they did not meet. It would be nice to think that, at some time, they met Lydia but it is certainly possible that, at the very least, Paul would have told them about her.

These women understood the problems of living within a minority community in a pagan world. They probably had personal experience of the troubles posed by Judaism and Hellenism, the factions within the church (Paul/Apollos) and the questions faced by the Apostle Paul:

• Should Christians accept invitations to homes of pagans?

• Should Christians eat with pagans?

• Should Christians eat meat left over from sacrificial rites and sold in the market?

• Should Christians have recourse to heathen courts?

• Then, of course, there was the head covering question.

Sisters like Lydia, Priscilla and Phoebe certainly had a strong role to play in the growth of the Christian church. In this wider world, there are still sisters who travel to lands far away and open their homes to the brothers and sisters who are the workers of today. Without them, life would be much the poorer.

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Tom Wright, in his Luke for Everyone, proposes that the real problem exercising Mary about Martha, in Luke 10:38-42, was not so much that she was getting no help in the kitchen but rather that Martha, by sitting at the feet of Jesus, had crossed the accepted boundary within the house, and within the social world of the time, between male and female. She had quietly taken her place at the feet of Jesus as a would-be teacher and preacher of the kingdom of God. Editor.

Jesus’ Challenge to Exclusivism, Legalism and Ritualism

This is life eternal to know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.

But how well do we know Jesus? We can only truly know him if we look at him within the context of his own contemporary world. His short three-year ministry was carried out almost entirely within the confines of Judaism, in relation to his own people to whom he declared he had been called. So what was his relationship to his own world and can we learn from it lessons for our own?

The Jewish world into which he came was dominated by three major beliefs.

1. The People of God

The Jews claimed that they were the specially called and chosen people from their encounter with God at Sinai. But did this entitle them to a position of special favour with God or was it a call to responsibility?

2. The Law

Based initially upon the Ten Commandments, they had been given a Law which marked them out from other peoples. In time, however, the edicts regarding Sabbath, food and contact with uncleanness and outcasts had been elaborated into a system of over 600 detailed rules which dominated their whole lives. Was this the initial significance of the Law? or was this not rather a moral basis for community and family life?

3. The Temple

God had given them a system of worship in the Tabernacle, designed to teach and to educate the people into a proper approach to God. But again this had been developed into a system of sacrificial worship, conducted by priests who had no divine authority, were in fact, by this time, puppets of the Romans and by the time of Jesus were thoroughly corrupt, as has been proved by archaeological research. Moreover the Temple had been built by Herod – for whose glory?

How did Jesus react to these issues? Did he openly attack, attempt to reform or did he give an entirely new dimension to their attitudes in the person of himself?

Can we learn from this something about our own attitudes to issues in our own world?

Jesus was put to death because he accepted the outcast, the outsider, the sinner and the rejected. He showed that compassion, reconciliation and mercy are more important than rules, and the worship of God is a response from the heart not the performance of rituals.

The resurrection was the vindication of his whole life and endorses for us our salvation and acceptance with God if we follow him.

‘Not I but Christ in me – a living experience.’

‘Though God be everywhere present, yet He is only present to thee in the deepest and most central part of thy soul. The natural senses cannot possess God or unite thee to Him; nay thy inward faculties of Understanding, Will and Memory can only reach after God, but cannot be the place of His habitation in thee. But there is a root or depth in thee from whence all these faculties come forth, as lines from a centre or as branches from the body of the tree. This depth is called the Centre, the Fund or Bottom of the Soul. This depth is the Unity, the Eternity, I had almost said the Infinity of the soul; for it is so infinite that nothing can satisfy it or give it any rest but the infinity of God.’ (William Law)

God is a verb not a noun. (R Buckminster Fuller)

 

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Ever Learning: ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’

Something entirely different this time: a personal experience that has made the headline quotation live in the mind of the author.

Those words of David in Psalm 139:14 had impressed me for many years; the more so once my young mind had taken in the implications of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The extreme stupidity of the miracle that is life emanating from dead matter for no reason; the scientific impossibility of inanimate ‘soup’ becoming alive with no external influence and no predesigned purpose – all these considerations and many more had resulted in my treating evolution, as described by the mass media, as something to be wary of. I had given numerous lectures on the subject, written many articles and letters to the press (some of which had actually been published!) and even given radio interviews, all with the same purpose: to show in plain terms the force of the argument against mere chance (called ‘natural selection’ by its adherents, although an organism without intelligence might find it somewhat difficult to select anything) being capable of advancing from single-cell amoeba to homo sapiens. Although the Darwinian hypothesis purports to offer a ‘guesstimate’ of how life began on earth, it can never come within miles of suggesting WHY.

But all of it was academic. Vitally important to a Bible believer, but all in the mind; theory versus theory, words in books, in correspondence columns, in scripts. None of it was based on personal experience. If you like, it was all sense but no real feeling, (despite the definition of ‘sense’), until the end of May this year that is.

That was when the climax came; the story actually started several weeks earlier, when a local optometrist (Free eye tests for the over-60s!) advised me to consult an ophthalmic specialist about what she called diabetic retinopathy in my right eye. As a Type 2 diabetic I knew what that was, and that it’s just as well to waste little time in getting it sorted. The specialist referred me in turn to a surgeon, who amended the diagnosis to a Macular hole and arranged for treatment. The operation is called Vitrectomy and Membranectomy, and not only has it improved my vision, but it has given me the experience of being ‘fearfully & wonderfully made’ which I had lacked for so many years. If you like, it has improved my spiritual vision as well as the optical kind.

Obviously, once committed to ophthalmic surgery, I had looked up the procedure on the internet to see what I was faced with, and had discovered the significant fact that it is the most intricate surgical procedure so far performed on the human eye. I learned also, but from the surgeon himself, that, throughout the large county of Buckinghamshire where I live, only two surgeons are qualified to perform the operation, which was unknown before 1992. This made me think. Had I needed this treatment when I first retired, it just wouldn’t have been there; even now, it is an uncommon event; comparatively few hospital operating theatres are equipped for it.

So what is a macular hole? You probably know that the images which impinge on the eye go through the lens, get focused and proceed to the back of the eyeball to meet the retina, a light- and colour-sensitive area which converts the images into impulses for the journey along the optic nerve to the brain. The Macula is the central part of the retina, the bit that deals with fine detail and sharp-focus work like reading and writing. A hole in this area does markedly affect the quality of vision, as you can imagine. However, I was fortunate in two ways; my left eye was free from any macular trouble, so I could still read, write and (importantly) drive, [1] and at my age the problem could have been Macular Degeneration, something that cannot be improved, only arrested, and it wasn’t that, so the surgical procedure could markedly improve the situation. Two reasons for grateful thanks!

Now comes the awkward bit. I can’t begin to describe what happens without showing an illustration, and it’s not a pretty sight in a cutaway section. So please accept my apology here and now.

An ophthalmic surgeon describes the procedure

‘The operation involves cutting and folding back the thin transparent covering of the eyeball (the conjunctiva) so that access is obtained to the ‘wall’ of the eyeball (the sclera). Three small (1mm) holes are made in the sclera with a fine, sharp knife, 4mm behind where the coloured part of the eye (the iris) starts. One hole is for connection to an infusion port, where Balanced Salt Solution (BSS) is used to replace the vitreous gel, which is first removed from the vitreous cavity by a cutter, inserted through another of the holes. The cutter is a fine pneumatic guillotine which cuts and sucks out the vitreous gel. Through the third hole is inserted a ‘light pipe’, because the back of the eye cannot be observed by the direct light of the microscope.’

‘The first stage of the operation is to cut away as much of the vitreous gel as possible, so that it allows access to the retina and also creates space to insert a mixture of air and sulphur hexafluoride gas. A dye is inserted into the eye to stain the internal limiting membrane – a tiny membrane forming one of the ten layers of the retina. The thickness of this membrane is about 1/100 to 1/1,000 of a millimetre; peeling it allows the underlying retinal tissue to be pushed back together, using the special gas/air in the form of a bubble.’

Success depends on patient co-operation in face-down ‘posturing’

‘From as soon as possible after the operation, the patient must maintain a ‘face-down’ position for 50 minutes in every hour, day and night, until the gas/air bubble gradually disappears by shrinking slowly over the following 2-3 weeks. Eventually the bubble is ‘washed out of the eye by the blood stream’ and replaced by the liquid that normally fills only the front of the eye. Thus the recovery of vision instigated by the surgeon is greatly assisted by a) the degree to which the patient maintains the ‘face-down’ posture and b) the body’s restoration of the preoperative fluid-filled state of the eyeball.’

‘Silicone oil has been suggested in a few studies as an alternative for the gas/air mixture in the case of patients who cannot properly posture face down. However, the oil itself can sometimes be toxic to the retina. There are case reports emerging of irreversible loss of vision in some patients who have had the silicone oil alternative. I must say that, unless I absolutely have to, I do not like using it.’

I am grateful to my surgeon, Mr. Manuchehri of Aylesbury, for that account of the procedure. I’m even more grateful to him for his immediate and frank response when I asked him if all this knowledge made him regard evolution by natural selection with suspicion. ‘Suspicion?’ he replied; ‘Why, such intricacy, useless until complete, must have come from above to have been any use!’

Many aspects of the recovery, too, amazed me throughout. One was the fact that while I was looking down on the surface of the fluid, I wasn’t! I was actually looking UP, seeing upside down a mirror image of the interface between liquid and gas/air mixture. Another astounding realisation – which the surgeon revealed and I’d never have known – was that as the gas/air bubble disappeared, it did so because the gas was slowly dissolving and the eye was producing its own aqueous to fill the space being created!

Now are you beginning to see (as I did – in both ways!) why 1 quote David’s confession of being fearfully and wonderfully made? I wonder what it was that brought from him the realisation that hit me during my enforced face-down idleness day and night? In any case, he saw more of the wonder of creation than I ever could; look at Psalm 104, for just one example. But one joy I did experience, that even King David never did, was the sight of that bubble shrinking, first every few days, then daily, then every few hours as it shrank to the size of a large full-stop, until one morning, suddenly, it wasn’t there any more! Suddenly I didn’t need to sit and lie with my head facing down! Suddenly I didn’t need the £200 padded face-frame and its heavy fixings!

Then, and only then, when I had lost the one thing on which my thoughts and attention had been concentrated for nearly three weeks, I realised with a shock that I could see clearly again. Not as well as before the macula hole had arrived, but much better than during the initial post-operative weeks. I lost no time in returning the face-frame to the hospital. However, my gratitude to God, that I really am fearfully and wonderfully made, comes from more than the physical sight I have regained – it is due to the knowledge of the wonder of the creation, not just of the sense of sight but of all the other senses and coordinated actions of which His creatures are capable. I calculated that many of them would have taken so long to evolve into another beneficial form that, long before each intervening stage had perfected itself, it would have atrophied from protracted non-use. Then there’s the unique human ability to realise that He did all this not merely to show how wonderful He is, but because He loved us before He made us. Made us fearfully and wonderfully now – but nothing to what we can be in the regeneration, when the Son of Man returns!

Now, if the editor will grant me the extra space, I can’t wait to pass on the latest information (nothing to do with macular holes!) that I’ve heard to resist the ability of Darwinist evolutionism – in the simplistic format of the mass media – to misinform the public. Although I am at best a reluctant gardener, I do watch the odd gardening programme on TV. A few weeks after my eye surgery, I saw an hour’s documentary on plants’ perfumes, including their use as defences against pest attack. I sat amazed as I saw and heard the expert describe how many plants, if attacked by a particular insect pest, can produce and release, very rapidly, a pheromone which is highly and selectively attractive to the specific predators which feed on the variety of pest currently attacking it. The predators arrive in their masses, and very often the attack is sufficiently short-lived (so are the pests!) that the plant survives and continues to prosper.

This discovery supports the proposition that pure chance – unguided and with no predesigned purpose – could not possibly know the identities BOTH of the pest attacking the plant AND of the specific predator which feeds on that pest. I suggest that perhaps the plants, the pests and their predators are also ‘fearfully and wonderfully made!’

Notes

1. In the UK one can legally drive if able to read, with the aid of distant glasses if worn, a vehicle number plate at 25 yards (20.5 metres) distance. I can still do this but I no longer drive at night.

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Jesus and Paul

For Paul the resurrection of Jesus is the pivotal point not only in his own life but in the total unveiling of God’s purpose, hitherto only prophetically foretold through Abraham and the prophets.

This was the victory over all the evils that had placed him on the Cross. All the human evils of man’s nature, jealousy, pride, envy etc. were overpowered by his resurrection. His enemies were proved powerless. Through Jesus they were conquered and in him are defeated in those who identify with him. So the doors were opened to all humanity because he died for all people; he identified himself with all men. ‘In Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive.’

In Romans 1–8 Paul presents to the church in Rome the manifesto of his faith. All are in need of salvation, Jew and Gentile alike (1–3). It is only through faith that we can share this blessing not through law or works (Abraham chapter 4). Jesus has identified himself with all men (Adam, chapter 5). We can participate in this victory by burial into his death (chapter 6) which opens up our hearts to the influence of Jesus’ own spirit, often producing conflict (chapter 7) but in the end triumph (chapter 8).

Is this not the very basis of Jesus’ own ministry, the challenge to exclusivism and legalism and the declaration that true worship is not through institutions or ritual but a relationship with God through the indwelling of the spirit which is Jesus himself?

Paul’s vision of Jesus is wholly determined by his own Jewish background, his personal encounter with the risen Lord and his worldwide commission. So although we may recognise basic patterns and principles in our study of different interpretations, Jesus essentially comes to each of us, individually and personally, not in set formulae or doctrines but in the living experience of each person who will open his or her heart to receive him. Jesus is not static but dynamic, participating in the world, in life, in situations and in us, in all our encounters and in those of others. We only know Jesus by experience.

What is Jesus saying to us today?

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Sin in the Flesh

A secondary Biblical usage of the word Sin?

An eight-page booklet, on the subject SIN IN THE FLESH – ITS CAUSE AND CURE, has recently been circulated by the Appeal to All Ecclesias Committee. Previous publications of this Committee have shown that they regard themselves as final arbiters on correct belief; the present booklet is no exception and calls, I feel, for some response. The Foreword (p.3) declares:

. . . the wrong teaching on this subject has intensified and grown extensively in its influence, sowing discord within the brotherhood. For example there has recently been correspondence in The Endeavour magazine illustrating a failure to understand the scriptural principles involved.

The purpose of the current booklet is to insist on the Committee’s particular and very specific understanding of Sin – and its corollary, the belief that Jesus had to offer for himself in order to be cleansed from his own sinful flesh. The Foreword states:

The principal cause of this wrong understanding of the subject…is a failure to properly comprehend the origin of sin in the flesh [my emphasis]. We are all very familiar with…the early chapters of Genesis, but very often the full significance of that record is misunderstood. In this booklet therefore, we will begin by looking at the record of the fall of man and its consequences in a little detail.

The booklet suggests that we put ourselves in the place of a person who has no knowledge whatsoever of the contents of the Bible. It then spells out for us (pp. 4 & 5) just what this person’s understanding and conclusions would be, after he had read the first 3 chapters of Genesis. Let us consider the Committee’s conclusions, as seen through the eyes of this imaginary reader – who we will call Tom. At the same time, bear in mind that the whole of the booklet’s remaining arguments depend absolutely on what Tom has deduced from his reading of Gen 1 to 3. Below, numbered for convenience, is my summary of the various points made, with Tom’s thoughts and conclusions given in italics.

Results of Tom’s reading

1. From chapter 1 he learned that God created the heavens and the earth in six days; that he made man in his own image, and that he saw that everything he had made was very good. From this Tom concludes that: as yet evil, including the propensity within man to do that which is wrong, did not exist.

2. In the next chapter he read the more detailed account of the forming of man and woman; also that they were forbidden to eat of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’

Chapter 3 had told him of the suggestions put to the woman by the serpent, which resulted in first her, then the man, disobeying God’s commandment. In consequence ‘the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.’ So obviously, Tom reasoned, they were now ashamed of their nakedness. But why? After all, husbands and wives are not normally embarrassed at seeing one another’s nakedness, and there was no one else to see them.

Also, when God had spoken to Adam, he had replied: ‘I was afraid, because I was naked.’ So, disobeying God had brought both shame and fear.

3. Following his above thoughts on the couple’s embarrassment, Tom went on to decide: Obviously the ‘very good’ state at the end of the sixth day no longer applied to the bodies of the man and the woman. Those propensities to disobedience, which the serpent had introduced to them, were now a part of their physical being. Their bodies, alone amongst all that God had created, were present in a ‘not good’ state. This was their first knowledge of evil.

4. A thought occurred to Tom: The clothing which they made for themselves was rather scanty. It did not cover the parts of their bodies that had sinned, i.e. their ears, eyes, hands and mouths. What they covered was their shame and fear. They had already been told to be fruitful and multiply, so they would have realised that the evil state of their bodies would be transmitted to their children.

5. Our reader then proceeds to learn of the further consequences of their disobedience. The woman would suffer in childbirth, the whole creation was cursed, and the man and woman were sentenced to death. They would not die immediately, but their life would be one of toil and labour.

6. Yet there was a hint of hope. A seed of the woman was promised who would eventually destroy the seed of the serpent which was the cause of their unclean bodies (Job 14:4). Also God provided them more adequate clothing which would cover their whole bodies… But this clothing obviously required the death of an animal.

7. ‘Our reader’ says the Committee, ‘would then understand the following principles’

• God created a world that was very good.

• That very good state was marred by disobedience, with the following consequences:

i) Man now possessed in his physical body, the propensity to act in a way contrary to God’s will, which would be inherited by all his descendants.

ii) Man became mortal

iii) The whole of creation was cursed.

iv) God provided a covering for man’s body by a coat of skin which required the death of an animal.

At this point, as Tom has come to the Committee’s own, correct, understanding of the subject, they now take their leave of him in order to ‘apply these fundamental principles…’ in their remaining pages. However, for the moment, let us stay with Tom.

Tom requests a Second Opinion. Tom, realising that the Committee had had a large input in steering him towards reaching the above understanding, began to wonder whether he had been unduly influenced. He asked himself whether he had reached sound conclusions; or, could there be other ways of understanding the subject? He decided to ask for the opinion of his friend Dick. So, Dick, having listened to Tom’s interpretation of Genesis chapters 1 to 3, agreed to read the chapters himself and to come back to Tom with his own impressions of their meaning.

Dick’s Report to Tom after reading Gen. 1 to 3.

Genesis depicts God as the creator and sustainer of the earth and everything upon it. Obviously, from our current knowledge, the seven days of creation are not intended to be taken literally. God created all the various living creatures of sea, sky and earth; finally making man and woman in his own image. They were all instructed to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Suitable provision of food for all these living creatures was made by way of creating the many and varied herbs and trees, all bearing their own seed for future renewal and replenishment. God is seen as the originator of all the great and continuing cycle of nature that we see around us. Everything he had made was very good.

Coming to chapters 2 and 3, Tom, it is clear to me that not everything therein is to be taken quite as literally as you appear to have understood it. These chapters, it seems to me, are clearly in the form of a parable. Although in chapter 1, men and women had been given a higher status, i.e. dominion over the other creatures, the picture given in chapter 2, of the formation of a human being from the dust of the ground, makes clear that humans, like the beasts, are of the earth. ‘Adam’, my concordance tells me, means of the ground.

A delightful picture in chapter 2 – again reading it as a parable – is that of the human couple being nurtured in a special garden, planted by God himself. ‘Out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden,…’ A positive picture indeed: no weeds to make life difficult, only those plants which were pleasing and useful, all of which – except for one single tree – were freely available for the taking. A measure of responsibility was given, to till and keep the garden, hardly an onerous task in the circumstances, overall, a life of delight and happiness. Also we see the tree of life, available in the midst of the garden, a figurative picture of the Creator’s ongoing provision of life for his creatures.

Chapter 3 opens with the picture of the evil, cunning serpent, who suggests to the woman that the warning the couple had received – that to eat of the tree of knowledge would result in death – was not true. It is from hereon, Tom, that I particularly fall out with your excessively literal interpretations and unwarranted assumptions. Are we to understand that a seemingly magical serpent was able to thwart God’s intentions in the ways that you suggest? If we accept from chapter 1 that the whole of God’s creation was very good, then who created a literal, evil, beast such as this?

Prior to this juncture in the story, God had given the couple an idyllic life in a beautiful garden of His own planting, and provided them with all they needed to sustain that life. But the thought came to them, that by eating of the one forbidden fruit, they could become as God – in other words, independent of Him. The temptation was threefold: the fruit was good to eat, it was very pleasing to the eye and, it was desirable for the knowledge it could give. The first two aspects of the temptation were obviously related to their normal human make-up: their appetite for food and their appreciation of beauty – both of which were catered for elsewhere in the garden. The third aspect could also have arisen from their human constitution, for presumably they were able to think and to reason – though in this case their reasoning turned out to be faulty!

From what I have just said, Tom, it is obvious that I disagree with your conclusions here. You decided (your point 1) that at the end of the sixth day of creation the propensity in man to do that which is wrong, did not exist. You also conjectured (point 3) that this propensity was actually introduced into man’s physical being by the serpent. On the first point, I would comment that if there were no hunger or thirst, no needs, no wishes, no inclinations, in fact no desires, then there would of necessity be no actions whatsoever. There is a whole range of human desires that can be legitimately satisfied by the loving provisions of God. On the other hand, there exists hardly any of these valid desires which cannot lead to sin; hence my comments in the previous paragraph. With regard to your other point, do you really believe that a literal serpent had the power, actually to implant alien propensities into the highest of God’s creatures?

Your further comments in point 3, Tom, make it absolutely clear that you thought there had been a sudden transformation in the literal, physical bodies of the man and woman – a change from very good, to the exact opposite. You say: ‘this was their first knowledge of evil’. I cannot agree with either of these conclusions; they are both merely conjectures – completely unjustified by anything in the text.

In point 2 you query why the couple, after their disobedience, should have become embarrassed at their nakedness – obviously you recognised that there was no indication in the story of the sin being in any way a sexual one. Nevertheless, you realised that ‘disobeying God had brought both shame and fear’. This was shown in the anthropomorphic picture, given in Gen 3:8.9, of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and calling to Adam. Adam had replied: ‘I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself’. So, why naked? Again, it seems to me that the meaning is pretty clear without having to take it literally. I think that the expression is entirely appropriate.

Consider what had happened. Hitherto they had enjoyed an existence of beauty and harmony: the beauty of the garden and harmony, not only with each other but also in their special relationship with the Creator himself. But they had disobeyed him; they had let him down. Instead of being content with the munificent bounty with which he had surrounded them, they had wished for the unattainable – to be as God himself. Suddenly the enormity of their situation had flashed upon them. In place of the anticipated benefit from their action, was deep shame and fear. How could they possibly face the Creator now! The open, carefree and transparent life they had enjoyed had suddenly ended. Their shame and embarrassment was so great that all they could think to do was to hide. Now, terrified of meeting their Maker, they felt completely exposed, vulnerable – ‘naked’!

It is this, surely, that we are intended to see in our parable. Their relationship with God was destroyed. Even the harmony between each other had been spoiled – what they now had was shame, fear, and pathetic excuses as they each tried to pass the blame of their actions elsewhere. With each of them trying to justify themselves, how could they even trust each other. They were embarrassed and ashamed in every direction, with a desperate wish to escape from the sad reality of their situation. Whilst living in harmony with their creator, they had been protected from such feelings. Now, having taken the forbidden fruit, they experienced for the first time this evil: fear and guilt.

As you rightly pointed out in point 5, Tom, after the couple’s disobedience they did not die immediately. The simple answer, I think, is that the words of Gen.2:17 do not constitute a judicial sentence of execution. The REB rendering seems to express more nearly how I understand it: ‘…the day you eat… you are surely doomed to die.’ Their expulsion from the garden, with its banishment both from access to the tree of life and the previous close contact with their Creator, involved the inevitability of death, for they were part of the natural, mortal creation.

The rest of the punishments for the man and the woman, described in Gen.3, can also be seen, I think, as inevitable results of their removal from the garden. For instance, are we to take literally that, for Adam’s sake, the whole of the good earth was to be cursed? Would not the coping with thorns and thistles be another assured result of having to produce a living from the produce of the ‘field’ instead of the easy life of tending the special garden? He would now have to deal with the whole range of created vegetation. Thorns and thistles can be relished by goats, but can cause a lot of toil and sweat for a man! Likewise the comments on the future prospects for the woman: would not much of her problems result from the much harder life now in prospect. Also, having distanced themselves from the guidance of the Creator, was it not inevitable that their relationship with each other could easily deteriorate? Think about it, Tom.

Comments and an appeal to the ‘Appeal Committee’ – from Harry

Gentlemen, an acknowledgement from you that it is at least possible – and indeed allowable – for others to understand Gen 1–3 rather differently from yourselves would be welcome. If you will consider the interpretation as outlined above by ‘Dick’, you will see that the whole of your ‘Fundamental Principles’ from 2.i) to 2 iv) inclusive, have, on his understanding of the matter, been refuted. On the same basis, your booklet’s remaining arguments in support of your ‘secondary use’ of the word Sin could also be disposed of. Also, there is nothing in Dick’s conception of the subject that could not easily be shown to agree with Paul in Romans chapter 8. Nothing in the Genesis chapters supports your belief in a ‘fall’ that suddenly changed man’s physical nature from very good to very bad, to literally defiled flesh. Man is made as he is: ‘subject to vanity… by reason of him who subjected the same in hope’ (Rom.8:20). Please gentlemen, reconsider your judgemental attitudes and allow others the right to their own views.

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The Kindness and the Severity of God

The Basis and the Nature of God’s Love and His Judgements

1. General Considerations concerning the Mind (Will) of God

1.1 Today’s World

Evil and disaster are a continual source of questioning for all mankind and it would appear that every generation has raised the issue of how a loving God could be seen to have a part in the evil of this world. In this context, the recent spate of natural disasters and of man-made terrorist violence in Asia and in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, the USA and Europe, has once again raised the issue of God’s love and His judgements. Doomsday scenarios have pervaded our press and our TV coverage, and a number of different religious groups are expounding their interpretations of end-time prophecies yet again. It may be a surprise to some that, after 2000 years of Christian history, we still show an unsettling uncertainty about all of this! On the other hand, perhaps we should not be at all surprised that, when faced with evil and disaster, Christians and society at large still do not have a unified and satisfying answer to give.

In one sense there is the Christian understanding that we might be on unsafe ground when we engage in the questioning of God’s mind (will) since the Bible points us in the direction of considering …. ‘who art thou o man…?’ The same is true concerning our prognostications of dates and times, since it was Jesus who said ‘of that day and hour knoweth no man …but the Father only’. However, when we are brought face to face with the apparent judgements of God, as well as the apparent fulfilment of the prophetic word, then there is also a natural questioning of true or false?, as well as, why and how? What has it all got to do with Bible prophecy? What can we do to verify that these are God’s acts or not? Why and how do these things happen? Why does God (if there is a God) not only allow evil to flourish but why does He also apparently use evil against us? Why do the poor and the innocent appear to take the brunt of such things? Why me? Or better still – if we have not yet suffered – why not me? The complexity of it all can overwhelm us and no one likes to think (in advance or at any other time) about facing evil and disaster, so in general terms we are always reluctant to consider such things and we are not infrequently taken by surprise!

Many Christians have been drawn to the modernist (rational) approach to our life events, and they have come to the conclusion that it is just the way things are. Our earth scientists have shown that the nature of our planet is inherently unstable and it is not surprising therefore that the evil and disaster associated with earthquakes, volcanoes and violent weather systems are not infrequent occurrences. Also our understanding of illness and modern medicine indicate that we are all vulnerable and that there are rational explanations for our diseases and their treatments. Apocalyptic signs have been part of our repetitive human history since the book of Revelation was written and we appear to go through cycles where wars, famines, pandemics, etc. cast their influence on the generation that we live in. So it is said that the best we can do when disaster strikes is to offer our prayers to God and our practical support to our fellow man. To offer our religious experiences and our prophetic explanations with the notions associated with God’s judgements upon us, may not be understood or well received

The rationalist approach would suggest that in many instances it can be shown (from both the Bible as well as from our own observations and thinking) that it is our own failure, or the failure of man in general, which is to blame for at least some of our misfortunes. There are several NT verses of Scripture which suggest that the evils we suffer can all be traced back to our own lusts (desires), wars, as well as some illnesses, and certain marital and sexual problems can also be placed in this category. We could add to these the modern evils known to be associated with man-made pollution: the depletion of natural resources, global warming and the so-called accidents that befall us as well as the mistakes and the incompetencies of others who are meant to be serving our best interests. The notion of God being culpable in all of this would appear to have little to support it. So it is that we have a growing societal ethos of acceptance and the rise of counselling services and preventative measures of all types. We also have agreements with the intention of limiting nuclear proliferation and wars and the bringing of war criminals to justice. There is a prevailing globalisation philosophy with a United Nations Organisation, a World Bank and international aid to developing countries and we have the proliferation of relief agencies and the stockpiling of essential goods in order to respond when disasters strike. Our governments certainly appear to be doing a lot even if they never seem to get it right!

Advances in our understanding of how both we and our world came about and how earth’s natural systems (including its living organisms) appear to work, have also led to the rise of experts bringing their various truths to the rationalist world-view. At one time or another, the objective (factual) understanding of the events which disturb our lives has cast doubts on the notion of a creator God who is in control of (or actively interferes in) all our daily circumstances. Many Christians however would still look to their God in times of trouble and there has therefore been an upsurge of healing and prayer-request ministries in all media formats and in all parts of the world – including in the so-called developed nations. There has also been a significant increase in alternative approaches to scientific (allopathic) medicine and even to God-based religion with the rise of witchcraft and devil worship. In times of trouble, men and women are increasingly drawn to reading all about their biological functions and the natural as well as the supernatural influences (of all kinds) that may affect their daily lives.

The last three hundred years of history in the developed world have seen great changes in our thinking about such things. We now live in a postmodern world where modernist (rational and scientific) thinking still prevail but where it is everyone’s individual agenda that really matters. All human authority is questioned and held accountable. Pressure groups with a single agenda have thrived – scientific, political and religious ideologies and their world-views have waned and Christian values have become integrated in an eclectic societal mix. So we now have new labour and the liberalism of anything goes! Today, when distinctive (Christian or other) voices are raised to express their truth they are opposed – because, it is said, there is no such thing as objective or universal truth. Truth is what we believe to be true for ourselves and it is based on our societal embedding. In the USA and Europe (including the UK) our political and educational systems are now converted to this postmodern premise and our law-makers have adapted to the fundamental principle of safeguarding individual human rights as distinct from safeguarding the notion of obedience to God’s laws.

But, as Christians, is the creator God we worship not to be seen as being above all others? Is Christ not to be seen as THE way, THE truth and THE life? Is our God not to be seen in the natural events of our lives and the world we live in? Or has He gone to sleep? Is He perhaps not powerful enough to engage in such things any more? Has He been overtaken by our experts and is He now unable to influence our lives or to save us from the evils and the disasters which so easily beset us? Can evil and evil events be seen to be associated with His Acts? Are they in some way according to His will? Are they perhaps part of His mind for us? Are our experts to be believed; are they to be seen as His prophets who warn us and rescue us? Are evil and disaster an evidence of God’s Power and His Goodness and Severity? These questions have all been asked over and over again and have brought forth various confusing answers.

In the recent SE Asian (Pakistan and Indian) earthquake, the disparate voices of the modern world, which echo the general beliefs about evil and disaster and about God’s activity in it, were clearly expressed. The same was true when the tsunami struck in Indonesia and when hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans. On the one hand, there were the joyful cries of ‘God is great!’ when survivors were miraculously found alive and were extricated from the rubble and destruction by the skill and the perseverance of their human rescuers! There were also cries of ‘God is merciful!’ when there was a huge and bountiful charitable response by individual fellow human beings, including Christians and non-Christians, and by collective agencies including governments and other aid organisations. On the other hand, there were also the expressions of disbelief which questioned the very existence of a loving God who could inflict evil and disaster on the poor of this world and could kill a whole generation of innocent Pakistani children in their schools or a group of the aged in a New Orleans care facility. There were also the cries of despair at the scale of these particular disasters both at the destruction caused and at the number of the human lives that had been lost or rendered impotent as refugees. In the words of a local Pakistani Imam, it was suggested that God was unhappy with these people, and, in the words of local residents in all locations, it was suggested that there were perhaps human reasons for their suffering. There was anger about the nature of building and flood-levee standards and about the absence of satisfactory warning systems and about the lack of timely and sufficient relief efforts. Our scientists and our experts and, in particular, the corruption and the incompetence of our construction businesses and our governments, were of course to blame for all of this!

These responses reflect the natural inclination to always appropriate good intent to the God we worship – He is present to save – even if there are certain caveats to this and even if His actions were what brought about our suffering in the first place and even if it was down to human agencies to affect our rescue! There is also the notion that rejects attributing any ‘evil’ to any of God’s activities. This is often expressed in the religious (theological) explanation that evil is the absence of good just as darkness is the absence of light. God is both light and good and therefore cannot be a part of our evil and our darkness – His actions are always right and just. In this view, evil itself is not considered to be a thing or an object in our universe (unlike light and all the other objects including man himself); it is instead a notion associated with objects (an absence of the thing called good, rather like the hole in a doughnut is an absence of the surrounding doughnut material!). Evil is, however, associated with all the objects that we know about in our universe and it can be attributed to the creator God of the Bible himself (‘I create both good and evil’). Human agencies – since they are demonstrably evil objects in themselves – are of course culpable on all counts!

In the common perception, culpability is particularly applied to governments and to those who wield authority in our lives and who therefore can be blamed and held accountable for our suffering, no matter what the circumstances are or what it is that they do! In our post-modern world, the failure to warn us about (or prevent) an impending disaster and the failure to rescue us from our present distress is no longer attributed to God’s activities but appears to be placed firmly on the shoulders of our scientific and other experts, and, in particular, on our governmental and authority organisations! Nevertheless God is still blamed and all men are said to be culpable for ‘There is none righteous no not one’. Certain Christian groups have therefore seen the recent episodes of natural disasters as God’s specific judgements on specific people. Hurricane Katrina, for example, was seen as both a judgement on the city of New Orleans (because of its prominent pro-abortion and gay-rights ethos) and on the USA in general (because of not supporting Israel in their God-given entitlement to settle in Gaza). Just as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and Jews were cast out of their homes in Gaza, so Hurricane Katrina and the floods came and New Orleans was destroyed with USA citizens being cast out of their homes.

In view of all this (theoretical and notional) complexity it would not be appropriate to suggest that there is (or that there should be) a single pat answer to cover every infelicitous life-event, or that by seeking an answer we are thereby guilty of declaring our lack of faith. But, when evil and disaster befall us, as they surely will in one form or another, then it might be expected that we should be prepared for it. As Christians our hearts and minds should be settled about such things and we should be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us.

1.2 Christian Apologetics

There have of course been many Christian answers given and a reading of Christian apologetics, regarding evil and suffering, can be confusing to say the least. There is nevertheless a prevailing theology which suggests that God has not only provided for our freedom of choice but has also provided for both His righteous judgements and for His loving kindness in His creative effort and in His plan of salvation.

Righteous judgement is said to be in response to our works – we are free agents who are judged by God’s laws according to our thoughts, words and deeds. We are not saved by the law (we cannot earn salvation), but we are judged by the law, and it condemns us all for, in our freedom of choice, we have all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So far as man and the natural world is concerned, it is therefore said that the evil and the disaster that we suffer would appear to be one of the consequences of being part of a fallen nature and a cursed or fallen world – ‘the wages of sin is death’ – and we have all certainly earned that particular curse or reward! We should not expect anything less than our just rewards from a just and righteous God! At the same time however, God’s loving kindness declares that there is now ‘no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’ – the just requirements of the law have been removed in the death and the resurrection of Jesus and we have a new covenant with God that addresses our salvation. Many Christians have therefore suggested that our loving Father in Heaven has provided the solution and if we, in our freedom, choose life then His judgements would not be expected to fall on us. Nevertheless, it has also been pointed out that salvation (rescue) is not something that we have access to as a right just because God created us and the world that we live in. Salvation is His gift and we are saved by His amazing grace, by freely accepting Christ into our lives and not by any of our own works. God’s loving kindness also contains an element of not spoiling the child and therefore it has the unpleasantness of correction, discipline or chastisement associated with it. So it is that we look for purpose in our sufferings and even the fruits of the Spirit are known to include the characteristics of patience and longsuffering!

The extended considerations that go along with this kind of world-view are variously expressed by different Christian groups but there is a general trend which expresses evil and darkness as declaring our chosen separation from God whilst our repentance and our confession of faith bring His loving kindness including His gift of restoration (salvation). Different Christian groups have placed emphasis on either the separation aspects or the restoration aspects respectively—and this has led to different explanations regarding God’s acts.

One common understanding is that evil and disaster fall in a general way on both the apparently godly (the so called innocents, including our apparently godly selves and godly Job in the OT) – as well as on the obviously ungodly (the so called reprobates or guilty ones who oppose God and His works).

Those who stress the restoration (salvation) aspects of God’s acts go on to explain that, in Christ Jesus, God has given us all things, and we therefore have unrestrained access to His loving kindness now, but, as the Lord gave so He can also take away. This was the testimony given in a TV interview by one Christian who had lost everything in the New Orleans hurricane-flood disaster, and he added that he would now therefore expect (in this life) to be recompensed by his loving Father in heaven who would restore to him double for all that he had lost because this is what the lesson of patience (in Job) teaches us. This is what we should expect now. The place of our faith, hope and love together with God’s acts of miracle and healing in these circumstances, would be one that demonstrated the power of God for us, His loving kindness in providing for our restoration both now and in the future.

Those who stress the separation aspects have a slightly different approach in which they express their belief that we should not fear people and events that can kill our present fallen body – because ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’. We are all known (individually) to God and we can rely on His love toward us both now and in the future. However, we have our restoration (salvation) as a hope (it is not yet seen) and it is therefore all in the future, beyond our present suffering and beyond our expected death. The apologetic which goes with this separation emphasis, links to the nature of the processes involved in God’s acts, which are said to be operating to bring everything to a maturity in Christ. We are God’s children and we need to accept His fatherly concern in His disciplining of us. There is a certain patient waiting for the inheritance which is promised, and, whilst we have already been raised up to sit with Christ in his throne, God is still working His purposes out and so, for the moment, we are encouraged not to be anxious about the changes that are ongoing or the ones yet to come. God’s general judgement processes, which lead to our suffering and our death, are not therefore considered to be the end of it all. We should not in fact consider them in the same breath as the glory which shall be revealed in us. We should not expect there to be any real end, either to ourselves or to the world that we live in. Instead, we should be looking for a change and a maturity rather than an end of the world scenario. The evil and the suffering that we currently endure (even death itself) will ultimately be removed – every tear will be wiped from our eyes and there will be a new heaven and earth – but currently we suffer and we weep until all things are brought together in Christ.

The common apologetic, which goes with both the separation and the restoration aspects of God’s acts, suggests that we should ‘not put our trust in princes’; instead we should look to God and to His word. He (in Christ) is our king and He is always with us – so we can rely on Him. God’s word declares both His general warnings and His overall rescue plan. We should therefore be in the position of knowing both what it is that He has in mind for us and for the world we live in, and what are, His times and seasons – understanding His prophetic word is apparently an important issue. Equally, we should not rely on our political leaders or our scientists and other experts, (or even on our prognosticators, wizards and witches), to forecast world events for us or to teach us anything about the solutions that God has in mind to make all things right.

It is also said that we should not totally reject the input of our fellow man and that we should not always expect that our God will miraculously save us or that He will always recompense double for all our losses in this life. God is not a control freak and the choices are ours to make. There is the well-known story of the Christian mountaineer who was stranded on a rock face and when his fellows said they would attempt a rescue he replied ‘No that’s OK – God will save me’. A rescue helicopter was also sent to the scene but he also rejected that and when he eventually died of exposure and met his maker he asked ‘Lord, why did you not save me?’ The reply was ‘Well, I did send your fellows to help and I did send a helicopter….’ – the story has no suggestion of any recompense. In this regard it would appear, (from what the Bible as well as our scientific and other experts say), that our world is definitely headed for significant change – there are a lot of potential disasters that have been predicted to happen – and our experts tell us it is no longer a matter of if but of when. Our scientists and prophecy interpreters are busy trying to come to some conclusion about when – but the specifics have so far evaded them. In general terms there is some understanding of the processes involved but man-made forecasts have never been very accurate!

The place of miracle and healing in times of trouble, have therefore been variously expressed. Some Christians believe that they demonstrate both the strength of our faith and the power of God. Others say that we should not expect such things but should work out our own salvation in fear (respect) and trembling. Some Christians are expecting to be removed from the evil to come. Other Christians say that we might die in the present evil, others that we might survive and be recompensed. Some expect to receive a miracle and/or physical healing but it is also said that these things would not prevent our ultimate death or our future inheritance in Christ. Because it is a general conclusion that Christians will not avoid all the evil and the disaster that is coming on the world, the recent events have also led to a resurgence of interest in what changes might occur at death and where do we go at the end of this world? There are a number of different earthly and heavenly options to consider, including those of being translated (not dying—like Enoch); being present with Christ immediately on being absent from this world (as suggested by the apostle Paul); being taken away from the evil that is coming (either dying or being taken up to meet Him in the clouds, the so-called rapture of the church), as well as the standard explanation of sleeping in the grave whilst our spirit returns to God who gave it until our bodily resurrection and judgement.

In our present state of waiting, the perfect law of Christ indicates that a Christian is someone who loves the Lord his God with all his heart and with all his mind and with all his soul and his neighbour as himself. Therefore it is said, by most Christian groups, that we would be expected to be a defender of God’s laws and His purposes as well as being a keeper of such things, to the best of our God-given abilities. We would therefore be expected to declare a Christian world-view and we would be expected to persevere in our endeavour to walk with God and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world as well as not passing by on the other side of the road when our fellow man was in difficulty. If the Kingdom and its blessings are a current reality, and it is all a gift from God which declares what it is that we hope for, then we might understand that faith without such works is dead and we might be prepared to give such an interpretation to the prayer of Paul (the Apostle): Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of [this] calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of [his] goodness [kindness], and the work of faith with power (2 Thess 1:11).

That there is no single Christian world-view out there should not perhaps surprise us. The world at large could also be forgiven for being unable to discern a distinctive unified Christian voice different from other voices, or for not understanding all of our current confusion. There is however a need to examine our own personal standing in all of this and the purpose of the questioning in this article is to stimulate such a self-examination (once again) before the memory of recent events fades in our thinking priorities and we put it all on the back burner (once again)!

What is our personal world-view? Can we determine the mind (will) of God regarding His acts of love and His acts of judgement? Is God himself to be seen as being absent from all the evil and the darkness? Is the evil He created only to be seen as the hole in our doughnut? Or is it (and He) somehow important to our developing spirit-nature? Does He in some way share the problem? Is He both the provider of the good and the evil involved in our world? And is He responsible for bringing evil and disaster upon us? Is He responsible for warning us and for rescuing us? How does it all work? Should we expect that His chastisements as well as His gifts of miracle and healing would be part of our current reality?

What is God’s purpose and plan in all this? Is it all just a natural thing? Is it all just a general or a non-specific consequence of what we (and the rest of the universe) are, an amazing but fallen creation? Are evil and disaster just part of a fallen system that is now on the way out? or are they an evidence of God’s power, His kindness and severity? Are they part of His continuing creative effort in bringing about our maturity, our change and our development? Are evil and disaster as well as miracle and healing never, or always, or only sometimes to be applied in a specific way – as being directed toward a specific people (or person) in their specific circumstances? Are they never, or always, or only sometimes to be regarded as being specific acts of God intended to bring about a specific change or fulfil a specific purpose in His plan of salvation?

How can we determine such things? What do other readers think?

The author of this article will explore in the next issue some possible answers to the questions raised here under the title:

An Object-Oriented View of Life

(God’s Acts: The Processes Involved In the World We Live in…)

 

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Freedom Won And Lost

The following study by Ruth McHaffie offers an explanation as to why a number in our community consider that as Christadelphians they have the right to study Scripture for themselves and to acquaint others with their findings. It also explains why they consider that, they, and not their detractors, are upholding the original intention and spirit of John Thomas.

The Original Aim

Soon after the twenty-seven year old physician, who would become the pioneer of the Christadelphian community, went to America in 1832 he was baptised by the group organised largely by Alexander Campbell and which became known as the Campbellites, though they themselves decided to be called the ‘Disciples of Christ’. Their young convert set out to search the Bible independently for he understood that one of the main principles of the ‘New Reformation’ (which they considered they had inaugurated) was that members could enjoy the exercise of free investigation into Bible teaching.

Shortly afterward, in 1834, he was presented with the opportunity of editing a magazine which initially carried Alexander Campbell’s approval. It was entitled The Apostolic Advocate, and John Thomas stated in its ‘Prospectus’ that one of his aims was, ‘The defence of the holy Scriptures against all creeds, ‘Confessions of Faith,’ commentators and system makers.’ [1]

It was not long before he perceived that he was in an untenable situation. He was studying the Scriptures for himself and reaching conclusions which he considered were in accord with its teaching, yet the community to which he had become attached proved unwilling to allow his findings to be advocated freely. He became convinced, as he would write later, that

A good cause never fears the light. The more the truth is controverted, the more brilliant its polish; but error hates the light, it fears inspection, it denounces disputation. [2]

In 1836 he wrote,

Till now we had supposed, that as far as ‘this reformation’ was concerned, opinions were free, and that we were free to discuss all principles to whatever religious subject they might appertain. But we discover our mistake. Bro. C. says No! and has assumed the unenviable office of an arbitrator as to what may and may not be discussed…. [3]

Ultimately, however, John Thomas decided that good had come from the repression for he declared,

He [Campbell] has taught us to call no man master, and has directed us to search the Scriptures independently for ourselves. [4]

He pointed out the need for reading both sides of the arguments, for as he said,

…those who read his [Alexander Campbell’s views] exclusively are incapable of giving a correct judgement in the case…. [5]

Indignantly he asked,

Shall I cease to plead for what I honestly believe to be the truth of Holy Scripture, because men, as liable to err as myself, are pleased to call it speculative and untaught?

Has ‘the Reformation’ all wisdom and knowledge? Is it infallible? Is it susceptible of no increase in knowledge? No improvement in practice? Is ‘this Reformation’ in the person of editors and writers to brand as speculators, materialists, anabaptists, and infidels, Christian men who have the independence to think and act for themselves according to their own understanding of what God says to them in His word? If this despotism is to be established, the sooner it explodes the better. But I cannot persuade myself that at this day, such a system will be tolerated by the lovers of civil and religious liberty and eternal truth…. [6]

In 1838 he observed,

Some think my writings all chaff, and Alexander Campbell’s all wheat, and vice versa. Now, I do not think our friends are right on either side. The truth lies in the medium. I think that there is chaff and wheat in the writings of all fallible men, and, therefore, in mine, and his as well. Who bears the palm of having most chaff must be left for the Judge of all to determine at His coming. [7]

Eventually he decided with regard to the ‘Reformation’ that

It began with a show of zeal for truth and liberty, but it has ended in establishing a new form of human authority and tradition. [8]

Robert Roberts, the devoted follower of John Thomas, wrote of him that he ‘was not a standstill man’, [9] and that in 1848 he had insisted,

Must a man never progress? If he discover an error in his premisses, must he for ever hold to it for the sake of consistency? May such a calamity never befall me! Rather let me change every day, till I get it right at last. [10]

Shortly afterward, when addressing the London Campbellite Brethren (while on a visit to England), John Thomas claimed,

My duty is to state and advocate what I believe to be God’s truth according to the manner which appears to me (not to you) most scriptural…. [11]

I have received the conclusion to which Paul leads me. Did he tell the orthodox Corinthians to cast their heterodox friends out of their synagogue, or to non-fellowship them? No; and further than this, he still fraternised with the church, although they gave him so much annoyance on this very subject [immortality of the soul]. His object was to enlighten and reclaim, not to cut off, and treat as enemies those whom this cancer-eating sentiment led to the denial of the resurrection of the dead…. [12]

He referred his correspondents to his continuing friendly relationship with the ‘American reform-churches’, ‘in which I am well received who believe in the Platonic dogma of the “immortality of the soul”’. And added,

We have learned, however, the important lesson of bearing and forbearing with one another, in hope that all will come to see the real truth, in which side soever it may be, before it becomes too late. But your dogma is that I ought to reject them, and they me; we, however, do not think so. We regard such a spirit…as both intolerant and proscriptive…. It is the dark spirit of popery, and characteristic of all sects whose fear of God is taught by the precepts and commands of men. [13]

When writing his first book, Elpis Israel, in early 1849, he wrote in ‘The Prospectus’,

the work is written…for that portion of the public that yearns for liberty. [14]

And within its pages he cried,

O that men could be induced now to devote themselves to the study of the scriptures without regard to articles, creeds, confessions, and traditions! These things are mere rubbish…. (p. 177).

On page 199 he deplored those ‘ecclesiastics’

who would discourage or throw hindrances in the way of a free, unbiassed, and independent examination and avowal of Bible truth in their churches.

Earlier, in 1835, he had referred to ‘our beloved brother Campbell’ [15] and in 1836 to Brother Walter Scott, who had immersed him four years previously, as his ‘worthy and beloved Christian brother’. [16] But by 1851 he was describing his distress after realising that he was at liberty to ‘prove all things’ only provided that he ‘held fast only what the rulers allowed to be good’. ‘This’, he believed,

was setting up a mere human standard of faith and practice, a substituting their views of truth for the truth itself, which was certainly not the meaning of the precept, and therefore could not be submitted to by those who aspired to the liberty of the Sons of God. The manifestation of this disposition to arbitrate with despotic authority in the community – to say, ‘thus far shalt thou go and no farther’ – originated within its pale a diversity of opinion in the premises which predisposed to the examination of principles which might lead to a difference of faith and practice. [17]

After returning to America, Dr Thomas in his magazine, Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, (1852, p. 240), summarised the view of a critic, a view with which he agreed:

When an editor, preacher, or any other person, refuses to permit audiences to hear in defence those they assail, it is proof that they know that their cause is too rotten to sustain without damage an examination which truth always courts from its opponents.

Constitution of the Royal Association of Believers in New York

In 1854, John Thomas and seven others put their signatures to a document which he published in the Herald. It was entitled Constitution of the Royal Association of Believers in New York and it indicated that the signatories differed ‘so essentially in faith and hope from all modern ‘Christian’ names, sects, and denominations’. It did not spell out beliefs in great detail but the fifth item specified,

Being the Lord’s table, and not the table of the Association, all of good report within the city or without it, who, believing the gospel of the kingdom, have been immersed, are cordially invited to worship with us; the only privileges withheld being a participation in the direction of our affairs, and speech without previous invitation. [18]

Twelve years later in 1866, when writing the second volume of Eureka (p. 668), he summed up his feelings toward the Campbellites,

Great efforts were made to suppress both the author and his writings, till at length they so far succeeded as to prevent their flocks from reading them and listening to his discourse. Alas, for any people reduced by crafty and designing men to such a case! How can the truth enter those whose eyes and ears are closed.

By 1869 he was determined that all should be aware that

…the man does not know me who thinks I am to be deterred by any consideration, from setting forth what I believe to be the truth. [19]

A Changed Policy

Despite John Thomas’s cries for freedom to investigate the Bible independently, those who have studied carefully the progression of his thinking have been unable to avoid the conclusion that once the struggle against Campbellite authority was won, once enough supporters had been found for his own views, then he deplored those whose expositions differed from his own, and more often than not he considered that they should be swept into a mass of iniquity deserving only rebuke.

He adopted that policy which he himself had earlier described as ‘the dark spirit of popery’. In 1870 he threw together Methodist, Baptist, Spiritualist, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal, Swedenborgian, Campbellite and Universalist’, and wrote of them, scathingly,

These sects admit one another’s Christianity, while I repudiate the whole of them as the ‘names of blasphemy and abominations of the earth’ spoken of in Rev 17: 3, 5, as mere superstitious inventions of the carnal mind. [20]

Robert Roberts

Following the same pattern, Robert Roberts, who initially demanded freedom of thought, was not long in clamping down on the independent thinking of any others.

In 1864 he commenced publishing the The Ambassador of the Coming Age (as The Christadelphian was called during its first five years). On pages 53-54, in the first year of publication, he included a statement by the Brethren in Nottingham which carried his approval and which repeated the sentiment regarding the openness of the Lord’s table as expressed by John Thomas.

During his editorship he wrote the biography of his mentor and referred to the Campbellite periodical which was published in London under the name of the Gospel Banner. He recorded how when John Thomas was being treated so unfavourably by the adherents of Alexander Campbell, during his first home-visit to London, the Banner showed a ‘friendly disposition’, published his articles and notices of his lectures, much to the annoyance of his opponents. Robert Roberts, approving the Banner’s policy, quoted from it,

To shut our pages against all who differ from us, would be to assume infallibility and perfection of knowledge in the mysteries of the kingdom, which we are by no means prepared to do. We shall, therefore, as heretofore, exercise our own judgement, with respect to the articles which we admit into the Banner, receiving those which we consider calculated to edify, to increase the knowledge, or excite the enquiry of our readers; and giving our brethren who differ from us an impartial hearing. [21]

But the policy of the editor of the Banner was not to be the policy of Robert Roberts once The Ambassador was established. On the one hand he asked in a letter to an opponent,

Is the right of private judgement to be sacrificed at the shrine of a dominant orthodoxy? Are we to take it as a matter of course that the majority is in the right, and that a traditional faith is divine? Are we not in full and unchallenged possession of the right to think as we please and do as we please, in the ventilation of our conscientious convictions? Is any man or set of men to set himself up as the judge of his fellows? [22]

And also,

If the Bible is God’s voice to every man that has ears to hear (which it demonstrably is), it is for every man by himself, and for himself, to seek to understand it, and to extend the benefit he may have received. [23]

But on the other hand he insisted,

‘Seeing both sides,’ ‘free discussion’ and that sort of thing, is very popular with such as serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own polemic carnalities, which are highly gratified by the canine performance of barking and biting, tearing and rending. ‘Both sides’ is their cry, their plausible cry, by which the unwary are carried off to their destruction. As to ‘sides,’ one side is sufficient for those who truly wait for the salvation of God…. When men, therefore, claiming to be saints, propose the exhibition and discussion among themselves of ‘both sides,’ they give evidence that they are no saints at all, but mere pugilistic time-serving theorists, who dabble in babble for their own sport and malice. [24]

Moreover, the policy to which the apostle Paul had led John Thomas that there should be ‘fraternisation’ with ‘heterodox friends’ was abandoned. Robert Roberts asked,

Did not the unbelieving Jew hold the truth in great part? Yet Paul counselled withdrawal from them all. Nothing short of fidelity to the whole truth can be accepted as a safe policy. [25]

Looking Back

About a hundred years later Brother John Carter commented of Alexander Campbell that when he ‘held up the clergy to ridicule, and exposed what he considered to be the pride and paganism and worldliness of the churches’, he was being nothing less than ‘papal’. Referring to the arguments which took place between Campbell and our own pioneer, he concluded, probably correctly, that the former ‘thought of himself as divinely ordained to lead the reformation and his bearing was in keeping with such papal pretensions’. [26]

But John Thomas followed the same path. He believed that ‘the spirit of life from the Deity’ had ‘entered into the witnesses for gospel truth’ at the time of his [second] immersion in 1847. [27] In the Preface to the first edition of his Elpis Israel (pp xii-xiii), where he had claimed that he was writing for those ‘yearning for liberty’ he also claimed the superiority of his knowledge and his interpretations.

The author is free to admit his weakness and inferiority in every respect that can be imagined. In one thing, however, he feels strong, and armed at all points for conflict with the giants – he knows what is written in ‘the law and the testimony,’ and he understands the meaning of it [his emphasis].

He maintained (pp viii-ix) that the historical events which he identified were

sure and certain evidence that ‘the Time of the End’ had actually arrived….

But since those words were written in 1849, his followers in our community have written page after page trying to explain away his mistaken forecasts, or in trying to establish in the face of facts proving the contrary, that, basically, he was right after all.

The ongoing development of our Christadelphian body illustrates if nothing else, how ‘finality’ of knowledge became changed to further ‘finality’ as one bit of ‘essential’ understanding was added to another, and the ‘whole counsel of God’ became even more ‘whole’.

‘It began with a show of zeal for truth and liberty but…’

Throughout history it has been characteristic of the zealous protester that while he and his party were in the minority they cried for liberty. But once the party became established then freedom was deplored. While our Christadelphian body has stressed its unique doctrines and its right to proclaim them, it has followed precisely that same course.

Looking back to the 16th century Reformation we find that it was not long after Martin Luther rebelled against the Catholic church and claimed freedom that the pattern began to form. Professor Roland Bainton, whose work carries the commendation of our community, [28] referred in 1953 to the monument erected at Geneva to commemorate the Reformation. There stand in stone the four famous reformers who sought freedom from papal power: John Calvin who was responsible for the burning at the stake of the free-thinking anabaptist, antitrinitarian, Michael Servetus, in 1553; Theodore Beza who justified the burning; William Farel who attended the execution and John Knox who applauded it. [29] All four claimed liberty for their own interpretations of the Scriptures but all four withheld that liberty from Servetus.

It was not long before some upstanding characters in the 16th century could see the anomalous absurdity of those reformers’ position. In the reign of Elizabeth I, when freedom from papal domination was upheld in our own isles but was replaced by the Queen’s domination, Jacobus Acontius in London, her military engineer, wrote in 1565,

There is no one among us who does not bear his own papacy in his breast; it shows itself at the first opportunity, when he does not examine himself with the greatest caution nor force himself in any way. [30]

The 20th century writer, Leszeck Kolakowski, commenting on the courage which Acontius showed in advocating freedom in so intolerant an era wrote,

There are many examples to teach us that those who make claims to tolerance forget their slogans immediately when they acquire the means of repression; they proclaim themselves tolerant only of ‘truth’ or ‘true Christianity’, which finds its abode solely in their organization. [31]

The Puritans of the 17th century offer an outstanding example of freedom evolving into repression. Rebelling not only against Rome but also against Anglican ‘popery’ they fled England and found refuge in the Netherlands. Still unhappy (and quarrelling among themselves) some set sail for America, and settled there. As more immigrants arrived from the home country a large colony was established in Massachusetts and in other areas. It was said of them,

…of all men they are least likely to disturb the peace of society, for they claim no other liberty than what they wish the whole human race to possess, that of deciding on every question where conscience is concerned…. A disposition to impose their religion on others cannot be suspected in men whose distinguishing religious tenet is the disavowal of all human authority.

But after finding the liberty for which they had yearned and suffered, they then proceeded to build up a rigorous system which denied freedom of thought and action to all others. Not only did they murder the American Indians they found occupying the country which they had decided was the ‘promised land’ awaiting occupation by the elect (themselves), but they insisted that other immigrants seeking the same freedom, should adhere to their precepts. Thereby they cast fetters on men and women every bit as unbending as those of the Catholic and Anglican churches.

Of the seventeenth century Scots a similar story can be told. The Covenanters suffered tragically when they determined to worship God as they and not the English thought fit. But as Gordon Donaldson wrote in his Scotland: Church and Nation (p. 86),

The covenanting movement, which had started as a nationwide protest against the arbitrary rule of a king, degenerated into an attempt to impose a new tyranny, and to impose it in England and Ireland as well…. They claimed freedom for themselves; but they would concede no freedom to others. One who had written in 1637 (when he was in opposition), ‘Who can blame us for standing to the defence of our Christian liberty?’ wrote eight years later (when his party was in power), ‘Liberty of conscience ought not to be granted.’

And when the National Covenant, otherwise called The Confession of Faith of the Kirk of Scotland was drawn up it proclaimed (p. 2), ‘We abhor and detest all contrary Religion and Doctrine.…’ [32]

‘Modified Popery’

John Thomas could not have spoken more correctly than when he wrote that Protestantism was merely ‘modified popery’. [33] But looking back to the prospectus of his Apostolic Advocate and his stated aim ‘The defence of the holy Scriptures against all creeds, ‘Confessions of Faith,’ commentators and system makers’, [34] we can see that, as the years passed, no longer did his followers cordially invite others to share the ‘Lord’s table’, as in the declared Constitution of the Royal Association of Believers in New York, but ‘the table’ became the possession of the exclusive Christadelphian community. And from it all who disagreed, often only over minor points, were to be excluded.

A visitor who was invited to ‘listen to Dr. Thomas from America at the Athenaeum Hall’ one Sunday morning in Birmingham wrote, ‘The first thing that confronted me was a thick rope stretching across the room to keep out the ‘heathen,’ or those belonging to the ‘nations’ class from mixing with the brethren’. [35] And however pious and dedicated to the cause of Christ were those attending, if they were not committed to John Thomas’ interpretations of the Bible then they were counted as the ‘heathen’.

Reason

Our community (like Alexander Campbell, who followed in his father’s footsteps) has professed to adopt much the same philosophy as the 17th century John Locke, who claimed that ‘reason’ was all important when interpreting Scripture. Robert Roberts supported the view that ‘He that will not reason is a bigot; he that cannot reason is a fool: he that dare not reason is a slave’.

Throughout our community’s controversies, those at the forefront of the battles, Robert Roberts in particular, have quoted text after text to support their own cherished interpretations, and ‘reason’ has enabled each side to leaf through the Scriptures ‘rationally accounting’ for their stand. It is ‘reason’ which has enabled dogmatic enthusiasts on either side of arguments to condemn the others, not crediting them as being well-meaning, though mistaken, disciples, but as moral reprobates. And they have felt supported in their condemnations by the words of Peter,

there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of (2 Peter 2: 1-2, KJV).

As another valiant 16th century critic of the divided Protestant church, wrote,

…there is hardly any sect which does not condemn all others and desire to reign alone…. All sects hold their religion as established by the Word of God and call it certain…. [36]

Bitterness Becomes a Built-in Characteristic of the Christadelphian Community When Elpis Israel was first published in 1849, a contemporary journal when reviewing it commented,

That there is much truth in this volume, forcibly put forth, we do not deny… The author’s contempt for other men, other churches, other sects is quite unbounded. To differ from Dr Thomas is to be a fool, if not worse. [37]

As we have already observed, Robert Roberts, in his Life of Dr Thomas, had offered fulsome praise for the ‘friendly disposition’ of the ‘Campbellite paper’ (the Gospel Banner) which had been willing to publish John Thomas’ views in opposition to Alexander Campbell’s, and to give him and his supporters ‘an impartial hearing’. But our pioneer soon lost the sympathy of the editor of the Banner not because of his opinions but because of his attitude. And that publication (Vol. 3, pp. 332-334) eventually recorded of John Thomas:

…he is the most unjust, bitter and unscrupulous enemy that either he [Campbell] or his brethren had found in America or Great Britain.

Some might wish to discount these criticisms as only from ‘enemy’ sources which are always suspect, but the contemporaries of John Thomas who adopted his beliefs and held him high in their estimation, were not all blind to his lamentable pugnacity nor did they excuse it as later Brethren have attempted to do.

In 1861, even though he became renowned among his Edinburgh adherents, eight Brethren felt it necessary to write to him ‘a kind but manly letter of remonstrance…not with his ideas, but with his style of speech as applied to those who differed from him’. [38]

William Norrie had great respect for the work which his brother-in-law, Robert, did. But he deplored the bitter and abusive arguing which Robert poured on those who disagreed with him even accusing a dedicated Campbellite opponent of suffering from ‘assininity’ and being representative of ‘the porcine class’ [i.e. a pig]. [39]

As time went on Robert Roberts expressed some regret for his ‘swashbuckling’ style and by 1873, when referring to the supporters of Alexander Campbell he was gracious enough to admit that ‘Disrespect will not be the sentiment entertained by a believer of the truth towards a system of things which, though not the truth itself, led up to the development of the truth’ and was ‘a large step toward it.’ [40] But more often than not, he still held little respect for his theological opponents, whether those in the Brotherhood, or the Campbellites. In 1888 he still thought it appropriate to quote approvingly John Thomas’ words that

…the ecclesiastical system, in its totality of names, denomination, churches revered orders, institutions, and worshippers is of the devil, and not of God…the whole system now existing is a monster of iniquity…. [41]

The insistence of liberty for Christadelphians but not for others has not been confined to the years of our early pioneers. The same policy persists today as differing views arise among ourselves, followed so often by the division of ecclesias.

One contemporary Brother took great exception to those ‘silly people’ who were unwilling to accept his own new ideas (and over the years he has presented a number which were unacceptable to many). He drew up a brilliant defence for the freedom of independent thought, and quoted John Thomas’ plea for liberty. Yet he, in turn, has tried to ‘silence the lips and stop the pens’ of others which ‘seek this freedom’.

So our body has added to the pages of history yet another ‘reformation’ made by those who accept Christ as the Captain of their salvation, those who are pleasantness personified when unopposed, but who readily take up the cudgels when facing even mild doctrinal opposition, and who, in effect, see themselves as divinely appointed deputy ‘captains’. In more recent times, the community’s public image has been improved and we have learned that there is more likelihood of gaining a hearing if convictions are presented amiably. Nevertheless traditional Christadelphians still see those to whom they preach, however dedicated to Christ they might be, as remaining on the other side of the thick rope which ‘drew the line’ in Birmingham by the 1860s. And the freedom which our pioneers originally sought no longer carries the approval of our hierarchy. Any among us who wish to offer, even if merely for consideration, the results of independent study are deplored and treated as infidels.

Ruth McHaffie

This is Appendix 1 in Ruth McHaffie’s forthcoming autobiographical work Born to Reform.

References

1 Roberts, Dr.Thomas: His Life and Work, (1873 edit.), p. 25

2 The Christadelphian, 1963, p. 27 (quoting from a letter)

3 Roberts, Dr.Thomas: His Life and Work, (1873 edit.), p.92

4 Ibid., p. 92

5 Ibid., p. 92

6 Ibid., p. 100

7 The Christadelphian, 1883, pp. 531-532

8 Roberts, Dr.Thomas: His Life and Work, (1873 edit.), p. 194

9 The Christadelphian, 1869, p 228

10 Roberts, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work, p. 245

11 Ibid., p. 263

12 Ibid., p. 263

13 Ibid., p. 264

14 The Christadelphian, 1871, p. 127

15 Ibid., p. 40

16 Roberts, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work, p. 99

17 Thomas, Herald of the Kingdom, 1851, p. 2

18 Ibid., 1854, pp. 10-13

19 The Ambassador, 1869, p. 109

20 The Christadelphian, 1871, p. 72

21 Roberts, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work, p. 255

22 The Ambassador, 1868, p. 42

23 Roberts, Christendom Astray, p. 2

24 The Christadelphian, 1874, pp. 374-375

25 The Ambassador, 1867, p. 269

26 The Christadelphian, May 1954, p. 138

27 Thomas, Eureka, Vol. II, p. 671

28 Eyre, Brethren in Christ, p. 12

29 Bainton, The Travail of Religious Liberty, pp. 52-53

30 Mennonite Quarterly Review, Vol. LXIV, 1990, pp. 262-263

31 Ibid. p. 266

32 Froom, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, Vol. III, p. 27

33 Roberts, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work, p. 50

34 Ibid., p. 25

35 The Christadelphian, 1925, p. 504

36 Records of Civilisation, No XXII, Castellio’s Concerning Heretics (transl. Bainton) pp. 122-123, 281-282

37 Norrie, The Early History of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in Britain Vol. III, p. 254

38 Ibid., Vol. III, p. 111

39 The Ambassador, 1864, p. 70

40 Roberts, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work, p. 2

41 The Christadelphian, 1888, p. 306

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Let Sects and Parties Fall

This is the title [1] of a history of the Association of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland written by David Thompson, Lecturer in Modern Church History at Cambridge University. It updates the earlier 1940 Ph D thesis of A. C. Watters: History of the British Churches of Christ. It also addresses the problem of what Louis Billington [2] terms a lack of adequate analyses of nineteenth century ‘restorationist’ [3] sects, their origins and the context in which they arose.

While denominational histories are of interest primarily to the members of such bodies and to historians, many Christadelphians would find this 229 page book [4] useful in helping to explain some of the background to the preaching of Dr. Thomas in Britain in 1848. For us, the history of the Churches of Christ [5] is of interest because it is the story of the British branch of the North American Disciples of Christ (Campbellites); that group within which John Thomas freely circulated until disputes about questions of baptism and prophecy caused him to be disfellowshipped.

The first conference of the British group was held at Edinburgh in 1842. From this date until 1847, (the date of Alexander Campbell’s visit to Britain when the second conference was held), the number of listed Churches of Christ had risen from 50 to 80, while membership in 1847 was noted as 2,300 in contrast to the 1,300 reported in 1842. However, in 1849, while the number of congregations had increased to 94, membership had decreased by 55% to 1,029. Not until 1856 did membership again reach the two thousand mark and it took till 1863 before the number of churches reached 100. Demographic historians seek for reasons behind bare statistics. One reason for the early fluctuating fortunes of the group in question is not hard to find. According to Thompson ‘One of the main reasons for the halt to growth was the impact of another visitor from America, Dr. John Thomas.’ [6] As Billington notes, ‘during the 1840’s, in a period of severe economic and social dislocation, Campbellite [Churches of Christ] congregations divided or disappeared fairly frequently, and members were much concerned with millenarianism, including the prophecies of the American William Miller, [7] and the teaching of John Thomas, the founder of the Christadelphian sect.’ [8]

When Dr Thomas made his visit to Britain, he was already well known through his writings. By the 1830’s there already existed in Britain ‘a network of ultra-literalist, restorationist sects and independent congregations.’ [9] Such groups communicated by means of magazines such as The Christian Messenger (published from 1837 to 1847 in London). It was through this monthly periodical that Dr. Thomas was able to disseminate his views. Apparently it contained more articles by him than by any other writer apart from Alexander Campbell. ‘In this way Thomas gained access to both Millerite and Campbellite congregations and soon secured several invitations to preach.’ [10]

David Thompson sums up the results of John Thomas’ visit: ‘there is little doubt that the divisive effects of his two-and-a-half year stay weakened the [Churches of Christ] movement in Britain … But attempts persisted by each to convert the other until the end of the century.’ [11]

The reading of such a book as Thompson’s is a necessary prerequisite for anyone who wishes to understand the context of our nineteenth century history. The study of the growth of religious movements since the 1840’s is an interesting exercise. More sobering is the story of the decline and decay of such groups as the Churches of Christ.

The Association of the Churches of Christ in Britain reached its highest reported membership of 16,596 in 1930. However, from this date there was a steady decline. By the mid 1950’s this decline had led to the production of three reports, the conclusions reached being:

1) Some Churches are, humanly speaking, quite ineffective.

2) There are many Churches depending on one man, and not a few depending on two men. If anything happens to that one figure, the days of that church are as good as numbered…

3) All admit the need for training young men – and others – for the public ministry of the Church. On the whole, young men are left to find their feet by the method of trial and error.

4) The number of local preachers is growing less and less.

Unless congregations have more zeal for the task (and urgency) of evangelism, the failing flame will die out or be reduced to such a small glow that it will be ineffective . . . Even small-group prestige and especially family connections may hold the cause together long after fossilisation has been noted by nearly anybody else. They would never dream of ‘joining anybody else’ even if they had to give up, but in splendid isolation remain aloof with (to them) honour, integrity and the ‘cause’ unsullied. [12]

In spite of these concerns being recognised, the membership of the Churches of Christ declined steadily, to 3,586 in 1979 – the last figures reported in Thompson’s book. [13]

What lessons are there here for us, as Christadelphians, in view of Dr. Thompson’s concluding remarks; ‘The tenacity of the view that Churches of Christ were not a denomination and the belief that the Churches could restore primitive Christianity on their own seems almost unbelievable today.’ [14]

A denomination may be defined as a religious group which has moved from a position of protest and separation to one of adjustment and compromise with existing society and its institutions. A reading of the aforementioned history illustrates how such a transformation occurred. We have a similar history to that of the Churches of Christ. Like them, we can be seen to have arisen in the context of the ‘Restorationist’ movement. Have we moved out of that context? It would appear not.

As Christadelphians we still believe that we are faithful to apostolic practices and doctrine; that we have a distinctive religious identity which we should maintain in a time of social and religious change. Such a belief is reinforced by the observations of others.

Charles Lippy noted that ‘all Christadelphian groups have remained dedicated to at least one aspect of Restorationism: the rejection of formal structure and organisation as incompatible with the Christianity of the New Testament and the concomitant conviction that restitution of apostolic patterns is a necessary precondition for the dawn of the millennial age.’ [15]

A similar judgement may be seen in the words of Werner Stark: ‘The Christadelphians recapitulate the New England Calvinist idea of the Church; it is not a universal institution, but a church of the chosen and everlasting saints.’ [16] In other words, Christadelphians form a fellowship of voluntary members, not integrated into the world, but in tension with it.

This tension resulting from ‘being in the world, but not of it’ is difficult to maintain over a number of generations, and thus the transformation from sect to denomination is regarded by many sociologists of religion as a process of sect decay. This would appear to be the case with the Churches of Christ, for Thompson notes that ‘the tension between a concern for Christian unity and the restoration of the New Testament order has always existed.’ [17]

From the last decade of the nineteenth century many in the Churches of Christ had tended to emphasise points of agreement, rather than disagreement, with other denominations. Thus, by the mid-twentieth century their leadership became committed to playing a part in the ecumenical movement, rather than in emphasising their separateness.

The question which faces us is, Can we preserve the distinctive features of our protest? We have not developed any central organisation as have other sects such as the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Mormons. Nor do I believe we should, because ‘the Christadelphian commitment to replicating the structures of apostolic Christianity has meant that there has been a strong residual resistance to developing a professional clergy, a bureaucracy, or other organisational apparatus. In refusing to centralise authority and decision-making, the Christadelphians have defied expectations of what generally happens when what was once a ‘new’ religious movement endures through succeeding generations.’ [18] Such a lack of ‘formal’ organisation throughout our history has meant that we have depended on the enthusiasm of individuals who have taken to heart Paul’s words to the Romans, ‘How are they to hear without someone to make proclamation?’

This emphasis on individualism – in spite of the observation by Bryan Wilson that ‘Christadelphianism is a family faith and the number of celibate or isolated persons in the ecclesia is small.’ [19] – has meant that we have often neglected to exhibit the sense of community that should be characteristic of our body. Many of us, no doubt, can testify to the deleterious effect on preaching that our schisms have had. Sections of our history certainly do not make happy reading. Bryan Wilson theorised that ‘clashes of personality, perhaps specifically concerned with the ambition to lead, appear to have been at the basis of most schisms in Christadelphianism, and not a differential desire to compromise with the world. [20]

Stark’s thesis is that the variation in rate at which sectarians travel back into the world is seen in their degree of upward social mobility, and in their consequent desire to conform with the world. In the words of John Wesley, ‘Although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.’ Sociologists of religion classify the Christadelphians as a revolutionist, or adventist, sect, and Wilson notes that the adventist sect tends to be insulated against the conflict between its own values and that of society at large. If this observation is true, there is still the danger, as Bryan Wilson points out, that we could become an introversionist sect. ‘Yet, although they remain adventists, some of the intensity has also gone from Christadelphian advocacy.’ [21]

One question which thus confronts us is; have we lost that zeal which characterised the preaching of the early Christadelphians because we have become inward looking rather than outward looking? Have we lost the sense of mission that characterised our early history, and expended our energies on ‘doubtful disputations?’

As already noted, we have resisted one of the features of denominationalism – the development of a bureaucratic structure. A key feature which distinguishes the sect from the denomination is the role of preachers. The development of a sect into a denomination is more likely when any type of preaching order evolves, whether it be full-time professionals or a class of de facto professionals such as itinerant lay preachers. As Yinger notes, when speaking of sect development; ‘it is rare that the priesthood of believers is maintained in a full sense.’ [22]

One way in which we strengthen this concept of the priesthood of believers is through our magazines. The quality and interest content of our magazines is, for a lay organisation surprisingly high. The question which arises is, How many of us read them let alone subscribe to them?

Unlike the denominations, we have no professional ministry, and hence no formal training programme for those who are to minister the Word from the platform, so is it possible that our Biblical learning is characterised by randomness rather than by structure? Are our Sunday Schools, Youth Circles, and Bible Classes providing the grounding needed, or are our young people ‘left to find their feet by trial and error?’ In other words, is the curriculum suited to the needs of 21st century Christadelphians?

While the valuable contribution of speakers at Bible Schools, Fraternals, and Special Efforts is acknowledged, we need to be aware of the danger of our community becoming a body of listeners rather than doers. Do we, ecclesially and individually, rely too much on visiting speakers, so that our younger brethren do not get the opportunities or encouragement they need in order to develop their talents?

The areas of concern highlighted by David Thompson’s researches are, firstly, a lack of preachers and, secondly, a lack of zeal on the part of congregations accompanied by small-group prestige. Similar concerns were expressed by Harry Whittaker: ‘Not only the Sunday evening speaker but also, even more, the rank-and-file Christadelphian is losing his [her] ability to be a competent witness for the Faith.’ [23] One reason for this is seen in the ‘desperate lack of good Bible study.’ While this is a matter for each individual to address, a supportive ecclesia can do much to encourage its members to grow in this area.

We also need to remember that the theological climate of the twenty-first century is vastly different from that of the nineteenth, and that methods of, and approaches to, preaching which were applicable a century ago may not be relevant today. While it is pleasing to note that we have taken advantage of the technological revolution by using modern teaching and preaching techniques such as video and tape recorders, it is disappointing to note that many Christadelphians are unaware of the theological developments which have taken place especially in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Too often the writings of non-Christadelphians are regarded as the ‘commentaries of the apostasy … [because of] the chaff which they contain.’ This is not to suggest that we, like many theological students, expend the majority of our study time on learning what theologians have written. But an awareness of recent thought in areas of doctrine can be of benefit in our preaching.

At the other extreme it would appear that in some sections of the brotherhood an inordinate amount of time is spent on studying the works of the ‘pioneers.’ In all areas of learning, students build on the knowledge of others, and we should take advantage of their labours, but, a balance is needed; ‘Back to the Bible’ should be our watchword.

Along with this concern about a lack of sound study habits, Brother Whittaker warns us that ‘it is especially in the field of dogma and dogmatism where an overweening pride or spirit of arrogance seems to flourish.’ [24] If our message is to carry conviction, it must not only be accurate but also timely and catering for the needs of those to whom we preach. Do we too often regard ‘The Truth’ as a set of doctrines with which to hammer the opposition? While it is true that the word Truth is applicable to the revelation given by God, the Hebrew word, so translated, has a connotation of faithfulness, what God demands of us. Perhaps a more humble approach is needed in our preaching.

Finally, we live in a secular age where the Bible is regarded as having little relevance to daily life. [25] Because we are ‘in the world’ we have not been untouched by the spirit of this age, in spite of the seeming assurance by Bryan Wilson that we tend to be insulated against the values of the world. ‘By far the biggest reason for the lowering of our spiritual temperature is the corroding influence of the affluent society.’ [26] If this is our main problem, then we need to address it.

References

1 Taken from a hymn written by Charles Wesley: ‘Love, Like death, hath all destroyed, Rendered all distinctions void, Name, and sects, and parties fall, Thou, 0 Christ, art all in all.’

2 The Churches of Christ in Britain: A Study in Nineteenth Century Sectarianism in Journal of Religious History Vol 8, 1974.

3 ‘By restorationist sects here is meant sects which, whatever their ultimate history, originally emphasised the recovery of Apostolic doctrines and usages, and the re-establishment of primitive Christianity as revealed in the New Testament.’ Billington p 21.

4 Published by Berean Press, Birmingham 1980.

5 J. B. Rotherham, whose translation is used by some Christadelphians, was a member of this denomination.

6 Billington p 43.

7 The American, William Miller’s prophecies that Christ would return in 1844 were taken up by thousands of people, and led to the Great Disappointment of 1845.

8 Thompson pp 24-25.

9 Billington p 23.

10 Thompson p45.

11 Thompson p45.

12 Cited by Thompson p 168.

13 ‘In 1981 the majority of the Churches of Christ in the old Association joined the United Reformed Church. Some who did not, formed the Fellowship of Churches of Christ, and reported 37 churches and 1,136 members at the end of 1991.’ Letter from David Thompson 13 April 1994.

14 Thompson p l98.

15 The Christadelphians in North America , Edwin Mellin Press, Lewiston, New York, 1989

16 Sociology of Religion: Vol II Sectarian Religion. Routledge and Keegan Paul, London 1967 p 97.

17 Thompson p l96.

18 Lippy p 302.

19 Sects and Society Greenwood Press, Westport CT, 1961 p 308.

20 Sects and Society p 341.

21 Religious Sects World University Library, London 1970, p 239.

22 The Scientific Study of Religion, MacMillan, London 1971.

23 Reformation. Biblia, Cannock 1985 p 31.

24 Whittaker p 52.

25 A recent study (conducted as part of research by the writer) of 244 NZ Secondary School students found that 9.8% said the Bible was a very reliable guide to conduct, 36 % said it gave some guidance, while 22.2 % said that in the twentieth century the Bible is not relevant as a guide to respondent’s conduct. The remaining 32 % had no opinion.

26 Whittaker p 4.

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Make Poverty History Update

makepovertyhistory.org

The World Trade Organisation (WTO, www.wto.org) is the main international body that decides the rules that govern international trade. Every two years it holds a major summit called a ministerial meeting. The next one is due to be held in Hong Kong starting on December 13, 2005. The previous meeting took place in Cancün (Mexico) in 2003. There are 148 member countries that negotiate throughout the year on trade issues. There are rules for trade in almost everything: goods (e.g. rice or textiles), services (e.g. health or education), patents (e.g. on HIV/A1DS drugs) – basically, anything where money is exchanged.

What Is Wrong With The WTO?

The WTO promotes ‘free trade’ – getting rid of regulations that restrict big business or the free flow of goods. Free trade does not automatically lead to poverty eradication or environmental sustainability. In fact, it can increase poverty and be harmful to countries at different stages of development. The reach of the WTO is expanding more and more, to cover areas such as water and healthcare that we believe should not be part of its remit. In theory, the WTO is democratic, and each member has one vote. But in practice, the WTO is quite undemocratic, and poor countries are subject to bullying and exclusion from key discussions and decision making.

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Review – The Dignity of Difference

The Dignity of Difference: How to avoid the Clash of Civilizations

Jonathan Sacks

First published 2002 Revised Edition 2003

Paperback: Continuum ISBN 0 8264 6850 0 pp 216 £7.99

This very well written and documented book by the chief Rabbi presents a powerful picture of the problems of our present society – globalisation, materialism, market economy, environmental issues, breakdown of social and family cohesion. He sees these factors as a cause of increasing division between rich and poor and inequalities of race and culture. From his own Jewish background and principally from the Old Testament, he faces these issues with powerful challenges, by arguing that respect of differences, rather than search for unity, can ensure the dignity of the individual and help to solve many of the inequalities. Moreover religion affirms the value of the individual and gives meaning and purpose to life.

He argues the need for taking responsibility, the recognition of the dignity of labour and the value of each person’s contribution. The market economy is essential for society but necessitates provision for the poor without creating dependence – The Jewish principle of Tzedakah. Judaism demands social justice in prescribing rest for man, animal and land in its edicts for Sabbath, Jubilee etc. Above all the full freedom of the individual is ensured by education and literacy. God’s covenant at Sinai was with all people.

Civil society requires cooperation, loyalty, friendships and space to meet and exchange. The Noachic covenant was God’s promise to the world and demands our care of it. But fundamentally the power to change the world depends on human relationships – principles of forgiveness and reconciliation – the story of Joseph. ‘The later covenant with Abraham does not exclude other paths to salvation.’ The transcendence of God is based upon diversity. ‘Fundamentalism is an attempt to impose a single way of life upon a plural world.’ We are enlarged not diminished by differences. Covenants create partnership without dominance or submission. Humanity cannot redeem the world without recognition of the divine in which we all share.

‘The glory of our common humanity’

Kierkegaard, Edifying Discourses

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