Confessions of an ex-Berean...
Confessions of an ex-Berean, almost-Dawn, and at-last-Central
I grew up, and was baptized (1965) in a Berean ecclesia. I was
a serious student (above all my contemporaries, if I may say so), studying all
the "pioneer" writings (for example, I read Eureka for the first time when I was
17 -- yes, all the way through, and carefully, making notes in my wide-margin
Bible). I studied the Berean position on fellowship, and I knew (as best anyone
can know) how wrong Central was: there was evolution, and clean flesh, and loose
living, etc, etc. The problem was: I knew about Bro Lovelock and "evolution",
about Bro Strickler and "clean flesh", and the "Endeavour" magazine, and I
assumed that these issues were grounds for remaining separate from all my
brethren in the "loose, liberal, worldly" Central fellowship. I even knew the
passages about fellowship -- like the "heretick" passage, and the "Godspeed"
passage, and the "Can two walk together?" passage. But I had never studied these
passages in context; I just knew, without studying them, that they must justify
the Berean position by condemning the Central position.
Most telling of all, however, I didn't know any real "Central"
brethren as individuals -- I just knew them as a group of errorists.
Then, in 1972, I married a young Berean sister whose family
was simultaneously joining the Dawn fellowship. Why did they leave the Bereans
to join Dawn? Because in Texas, where we lived, a Berean brother had been
divorced and then married again, and was not disfellowshipped! Here was a "sin"
which was tolerated by the Berean ecclesias, but would not be tolerated by the
Dawn fellowship! We had studied divorce and remarriage also, and concluded --
with the Dawn -- that any second marriage, while the first spouse was still
alive, was a continuing "state of adultery". It seemed so logical, and we never
let personalities get in the way of principle.
We became disillusioned with the Berean fellowship because
they just would not go to the limits necessary, as we saw it, to preserve the
Truth on Divorce and Remarriage. But we became equally disillusioned with the
Dawn fellowship also, when we had a personal interview with the elder (and
leading) Dawn brother in Canada, in which he informed us that there was, in his
opinion, no solid Bible evidence for the Dawn "4 points" on " D &
We were aghast. How could one be in the Dawn fellowship, even
a leading brother, and not hold absolutely and unequivocally to the Dawn
position, every point of it? And, for that matter, how could the Bereans -- who
had taught me that principle came first and foremost -- allow "adulterers" to
break bread with them?
It was shortly after this, in 1973, that my wife and I found
ourselves in a city where the only ecclesia was a Central ecclesia. We didn't
join the ecclesia at first, but we did attend Central Bible classes (expecting
to confirm at close range our previous assessments arrived at from a safe
distance). Here, for the first time, we met, week after week, and face to face,
real Central brothers and sisters. The surprise was... they were just like us.
Their beliefs were the same, in all essentials. They didn't believe evolution or
clean flesh; and they didn't know of anyone who did.
But the real revelation was in meeting, week after week, a
sister who had been divorced and remarried. Technically, by our view of things,
she was a continuing "adulteress" because her first (and -- some would say --
only true) husband was still alive... somewhere. But she also happened to be, at
the same time, a God-fearing and kind and spiritual sister who brought her
children to Bible classes and meetings, who hoped fervently for the return of
her Savior, and who discussed intelligently all the principles of the
For the first time, we had to evaluate our theories alongside
real flesh-and-blood people. We realized that something had to give.
The first thing to go was the Dawn "continuing state of
adultery" theory, which I discovered upon further Bible study was neither
Scriptural nor even "pioneer-compatible".
The second thing to go was the Berean/Dawn "pure fellowship"
paradigm: Careful study of the various Bible passages used to justify separation
from Central showed me that they had been misapplied and misinterpreted. In 1974
we joined the Central fellowship, where we have been ever since. Out of this
came a book, "Biblical Fellowship", which is still available today.
But what about other Bible passages, like the passages that
warn of apostasy -- the "wolves" among the "sheep", "the love of many shall wax
cold", "Shall he find faith on the earth", etc, etc? Yes, they are there. And
there HAS developed, in the history of Christianity, an apostasy fully answering
to the verses. But is the Central fellowship, or any other group of
Christadelphians, the Scriptural fulfillment of those predictions? No, I do not
believe so. Why? Because the basis of faith and fellowship in the Central group
is sound, and because any individual instances of error (in teaching or conduct)
should be Scripturally dealt with by the nearest brethren and/or ecclesia on a
local basis. How well -- or poorly -- they are handled in every case is not our
Even though I wrote "Biblical Fellowship" about 20 years ago,
I always felt there should be a follow-up study, with the purpose of
distinguishing -- on a sound Bible basis -- between essential and non-essential
Bible teachings. Why? Because brethren could always say something like this:
'Yes, of course! We know we should be forgiving and kind and patient, and even
mindful of the One Body. And we are...with our own brothers and sisters. But
these principles in 'BF' are beside the point; they just don't apply to Group
A... or B... or C because they are wrong on such-and-such first principle.' So
it seemed that we as Christadelphians needed a Biblical test by which true first
principles could be separated from other, secondary matters (which should not be
made tests of fellowship). This study I finally managed to complete,
interspersed among many other things, this year . It is entitled "What Are
the First Principles?" The two books together should help to understand, in the
words of Brother Robert Roberts, "how far we should go, AND WHERE WE SHOULD
STOP, in our demands upon fellow-believers".
And that is an overview, albeit a brief one. Sometimes, on
reflection, it seems like a pale version of the Saul/Paul spiritual journey...
There was a time when I thought I was doing service to God by remaining separate
from, and castigating (condemning?), most of the Christadelphians worldwide,
because they would not join a "pure fellowship" like mine. "Been there, done
that!" I pray that I will obtain mercy, because I did it in the flush of
youthful zeal, when I thought I had all the answers, and when I thought it was
NECESSARY to have all the answers.
More than thirty years after my baptism, I'm not nearly so
sure I have all the answers to all the problems that beset the brotherhood. In
fact, I'm still working on my own problems, and I admit I'm not completely free
of the "beam" in my own eye. I know I will need mercy in the day when I stand
before Christ, and I feel sure that others will need mercy too. That Judgment
Seat is soon enough (and it is the right place) to handle all sorts of perceived
problems in the brotherhood; and that judgment will be done correctly -- we can
rest assured in that.
While I understand much more of the deep things and nuances of
Bible teaching than I did 30 years ago, I believe that the real "Truth" is in
fact a quite simple thing -- like the straightforward Bible teaching in Acts
about Christ's life, death, resurrection, and second coming. (Please obtain and
read "WATFP" for a full development of this point.) An old rabbi (I'm sure he
was an old rabbi, and not a young one -- but that may be one of MY remaining
unproven prejudices!) said that the Bible is like a river... so deep that the
strongest man must swim there... and at the same time so shallow that even a
little child can wade. We each come to the Bible in all the various stages of
our personal spiritual development, and it offers us something at every level.
The problems of fellowship practice come when we, wherever we happen to be on
the continuum of learning/experience/development, try to bring everyone else up
(or maybe down) to our level at that moment.
I have spent 23 years in the Central fellowship, and (unlike
the youthful zealot of a quarter century ago) I can now speak from considerable
personal experience. The Central fellowship is not a perfect body, but I don't
expect it to be. It has the same problems, in individuals and even in whole
ecclesias, that other groups (Dawn, Berean, Old Paths, Unamended) have (and I've
seen a fair amount of them all). It may even have more problems, because there
are simply many more Central brethren and ecclesias (and certainly many more
"novice" brethren and ecclesias) than there are in the other Christadelphian
bodies. But, on a per capita basis, it is no worse, and it may be better and
more spiritual overall, than any of the smaller groups.
The "Body of Christ" is not an ivory tower, nor a fortress,
nor an "Elijah-cave", where we can hide from errors/problems/sins, keep our
robes spotless, and wait for Christ to come. The "Body of Christ" is, instead, a
"hospital", where sick people go to get better, and to help others get better.
IF our robes are spotless when Christ comes, it will not be because we have kept
them pulled back from his imperfect brethren, but because we have washed them in
his precious blood. "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as other men!" But you
are -- I am -- we are -- all too much like other men. In the last analysis, I
belong to an "impure fellowship" because my "fellowship" includes...
Brother, reflect on these other passages I've referred to
above. Put them all in the "mix" with the other "fellowship" passages. Get
copies of "BF" and "WATFP" and read them too. Ponder them all. Don't be
satisfied to stake your claim to acceptance at the Judgment Seat on being
"better" than your brethren -- Central or Unamended or whatever. Such an
ambition is a "bruised reed"; if you lean on it, it will break and pierce you at
the final day. Remember the publican's prayer: "God be merciful to me... a
Yours in the One Hope,