Australian Christadelphian Central Standing Committee
Unity In Australia

A Letter on Unity from England


3rd April, 1956


Dear Brethren and Sisters,

We have been invited jointly to send a message to your Conference particularly on the subject of the division in our midst and of what might be done in the way of reunion. We are conscious that we do no know and are not personally known to the brethren in Australia and that we should be careful in intervening in an issue where personal factors can play so large a part. We have both, however, had considerable experience of the problems that beset efforts for reunion; and we have had many private talks together, before the reunion issue in Great Britain was put on a broader basis by the appointment of two Committees to take up the task of finding out if conditions for that desired did exist. We therefore respond to the invitation to address you by letter in the hope that something helpful may be said.

It is axiomatic that there cannot be understanding without sympathy and it is necessary that an effort should be made to understand exactly what is the position held by a person from whom we are separated. To do that we should eschew prejudice and with open minds be ready to explore whether issues which justify division do exist today. Extreme language should be avoided; temperateness in speech, candour in approach, fairness in reaching a decision are all essential.

We are in a highly privileged position by our knowledge of God’s revealed purpose. Many earnest religious people are in darkness concerning God’s truth. We owe our present position to the fact that, under God, Dr. Thomas was instrumental in reviving the gospel from the traditions in Christendom. Those traditions had held sway over the minds of men as the result of the corrupting influences of teachers who had overlaid the truth of God with human theories. Dr. Thomas went back to the Word of God and as the result of much study and discussion he found the Truth.

When we reflect on the fact that the Truth had been lost and darkness had overcome the light, we see the need for heeding the apostle’s counsel to hold fast that which has been wrought. We cannot read the epistles without feeling the sense of foreboding that pervades them and the history of the early centuries only too sadly shows how truly the Spirit had guided the apostle’s utterances. In our turn we have the responsibility of “guarding the deposit”, as Paul describes the Truth in his letter to Timothy, seeing that, like a deposit in a banker’s hands, it must be preserved without loss.

What are the essentials of saving truth? We have generally recognised that these essentials are formulated in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith. Not that other Statements may not also give a true outline but the Birmingham Statement is the one most widely known. It is recognised by all in what we call the Central Fellowship and in the recent discussions in Great Britain it has been acknowledged by both Central and Suffolk Street groups of ecclesias as the one to which all could subscribe as setting out the First Principles of the One Faith. A Statement of Faith is essential for any community of believers to define their beliefs to ensure harmonious working together and consistent testimony to those without. To decry a Statement as man-made and to speak of the Bible as alone sufficient reveals a marked failure to perceive the problems of ecclesial life and its duties. All the sects of Christendom claim to base their beliefs on the Bible, a fact which in itself demonstrates the need for a Statement of what we understand to be the teaching of the Word of God.

We understand that most of the ecclesias in Australia do use the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith. As an indication of the unity of the Faith that is enjoined upon believers, is it not possible for all to approve it as the definition that is best known and most widely accepted? May we commend this to your earnest attention.

There are ecclesial duties and responsibilities in regard to the Revealed Purpose, duties which turn inwards and outwards. Inwards— in that we have a duty to nourish the Gospel in the minds of our members, to build them up in the Faith, to promote mutual love and obedience to the commandments of the Lord. But we also have a duty to protest against error. What a number of the epistles in the New Testament were written in discharge of this duty by the apostle! How Paul yearned over his converts, that they should be steadfast to the things he had preached! If he thought of the believers as sheep, he also regarded the false teachers as wolves that devoured the flock. If he thought with gratitude of the faithful men who toiled in the work with him, he also spoke with apprehension of those he called false apostles. We make these references not to apply this language to anyone but to point the lesson of our duty and responsibility within the fold.

We have an ecclesial responsibility to the Lord, in Adelaide, in Melbourne, in Sydney, or in any other place. And that responsibility is ours in our own ecclesia. We must have the right of judging the position of our members, with their weaknesses and idiosyncrasies and in doubtful cases each ecclesia must decide. While this belongs to us (and we should see that none takes it from us) we have a duty to other ecclesias. While an individual ecclesia, we are also a part of the One Ecclesia—the Church, and our duty to other ecclesias is to preserve on our part the Truth and let the light shine unobscured by vain speculations. But the converse is sadly true—if an ecclesia wilfully and persistently preaches error, how can we avoid responsibility except by disclaiming association? If this principle has on occasion been pressed too far, we must not therefore fail to give it its proper place.

It is the duty of all to seek to promote unity. We must avoid the things that make for disunity, contentions and strifes of words. Unity is a unity of faith, however, and that involves agreement on essentials. Here perhaps we may be permitted to speak plainly. In our efforts to seek unity and peace in Great Britain brethren abroad have reminded us in various ways of the problems that exist in other lands where there are extensions of the troubles here, aggravated by their own local differences. The citations of utterances such as that the Statement of Faith contains blasphemous assertions, by brethren in Australia who are still retained in association, create great difficulties for us. If we have a duty to avoid putting any stumbling block in your path, is not the duty reciprocal and should not you seek to remove grave hindrances to unity, either by so instructing your members that you can happily declare there is oneness of Faith, or by removing from your association, sad though it may be to have to do it, the teacher of error. “Purge out the old leaven” is apostolic counsel.

In pursuing this thought, we would make clear that we should not “make a man an offender for a word”. We would eschew slick labels which are easily used but often do not truly define. We must distinguish between true principles and uncertain details. Clichés of speech are full of dangers, as are also figures of speech pressed into the moulds of literal definitions. Wild charges exacerbate feelings and hinder understanding. To make local difficulties a world issue is the same as spreading germs of disease; local difficulties should be confined by faithful treatment to local situations and if the church as a whole must be told, then just as it is a rule in law that a decision must not only be just but must also be seen to be just, so in any separation it must not only be Scriptural and faithful to the Lord’s commandments but it must be seen to be such. It must be reasonable and be seen to be reasonable.

We believe there are hundreds of brethren separated as the result of the work of teachers who have been in error or whose speech and behaviour have fostered the view that they taught error. A grave responsibility rests upon such. But we should all seek to remove the hindrances and stumbling blocks in the way of those of one mind who are separated through no fault of their own. When it is necessary in the interests of definition of a disputed item of doctrine, sound, simple, clear language should be sought and the basic principles set forth. For example, Clauses 5 and 12 of the Statement have been much discussed and we are afraid the doctrines therein set out disputed. We attach an attempt to state in simple, straight language what we think those clauses mean. In addition, an address on these clauses was given at the Jersey City (U.S.A.) Conference four years ago by the request of the delegates, to set out the understanding of the Editor of The Christadelphian on the subject. We understand that the recordings of this address have reached Australia and have been listened to by some among you.

We take, then, this opportunity to ask your co-operation in the pursuit of peace and unity of those of like mind. If the Lord could hold against a first century ecclesia that they held a doctrine which he hated, or suffered those who held such a doctrine, we see how seriously he views some things. Surely none of us would adopt a position where He would have to say it of us. As, therefore, we hear reports of vocal protagonists of things which are not believed amongst us, making also stout charges against things we do believe, might we ask you to help us either by removing those brethren who make discord and division by their words, or by showing (after enquiry) that the charges made against them are not true. We feel sure that by so doing you will greatly help the cause of truth throughout the world and the work of peace in ecclesias of your land and of ours.

We would end with the prayer that God would bless our efforts together to the praise of His name, to the uplifting of the hearts of His saints, to the knitting together of those who, believing God’s precious promises, look for the redemption to be brought by the Lord when He comes again. May the divine blessing rest also upon your gathering to that same end.

Sincerely your brethren in the Lord,

201 Hempstead Road,
Watford, Herts., England.
21 Hendon Road,
Sparkhill, Birmingham 11, England.
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