George Booker
What Are The First Principles?

14. More Detailed Evaluation

More specifically, it is proposed now to evaluate the clauses of the BASF phrase by phrase, attempting to determine if they go too far or not far enough in defining essential doctrine. (In the analyses that follow, ASF stands for Apostolic Statement of Faith, and BASF for Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith.)

(a) The Bible

“The Foundation: That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation” (BASF).

This could be replaced by:

“The Bible is the Word of God, directly inspired by Him in all its parts. It is powerful to instruct man in righteousness, and to accomplish God’s purpose in those who believe” (ASF 1).

The second is only about one-third as long as the first, and states the same essential truth, even adding an additional (and, as attested, essential) significant truth: “It is powerful...”

Furthermore, the ASF removes the problems of the BASF: i.e., the suggestions that:

(b) God

There are no real problems with BASF I, except — again — its considerable length. The briefer ASF 2 says everything essential; in addition, it attributes God’s eternal plan to His desire to save men (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10).

(c) The Holy Spirit

ASF 3 is a perfect match for (a) that part of BASF I which deals with God’s Spirit, and (b) Doc. Rej. 6.

Also in the BASF, DR 25 rejects the teaching “that a man cannot believe without possessing the Spirit of God.” It may be assumed this means that a man does not need to be directly inspired by God in order to believe (though it might better have been so stated). Surely it was not intended to mean that man does not need the beneficial influence of God in Spirit-inspired Scriptures or in Spirit- directed providence in order to believe!

In the absence of any proof that it is an “essential teaching”, and because of this ambiguity of meaning, DR 25 might well have been omitted from a Statement of Faith.

(d) Jesus, the Son of God

In this case, unlike the earlier ones, the ASF (Clause 4) is slightly longer than the BASF (Clause II, DR 28), but with good reason:

“God — in accordance with His eternal plan, and in His goodness and kindness and grace — manifested Himself through a Son. Jesus of Nazareth is that unique and holy Son of God, begotten of the virgin Mary by the power of God, without a human father. He is not the second person of a ‘trinity’ of ‘gods’, and he had no pre-human existence except in the mind and purpose of his Father.”

The first sentence has no equivalent in BASF II (perhaps it does, somewhat, in BASF VI), but it is well worth saying. It expresses the motivation of God in His plan of salvation.

(e) Jesus, the man

The relevant “essential doctrines” taught by the BASF are:

If by “condemned” is meant “condemned to mortality” (with no moral stigma attached), then Points b and c are the logical and indisputable corollaries of Point a, and need not have been included on that score alone.

Otherwise, the ASF (in Clause 5) perfectly coincides with the BASF (in Clauses VIII, IX):

“Although he was the Son of God, Jesus was also truly and altogether a man; he shared our mortal nature, with all its sorrows and griefs” (ASF 5).

The terms “condemned” and “condemnation”, found in the BASF, do have — for some readers — a moral connotation, and might well be avoided for that reason. The Bible evidence does not support the use of these words to describe Christ’s nature in a “first principles” statement; “mortal” is sufficient.

(f) Sin and death

It is difficult to know exactly what “very good” (Gen. 1:31, AV; BASF IV) means, or even whether it is so much a description of Adam’s condition before he sinned, as it is of the condition of the whole of God’s original creation. Therefore, use of this phrase could be avoided in any list of “essential doctrines”.

Likewise, “a sentence which defiled and became a physical law of his being” (BASF V) is not demonstrated to be a first principle by reference to any relevant passages. Indeed, the use of this phrase in the BASF has led to arguments such as:

The ASF (6) is sufficient, while not introducing controversial matters of questionable merit:

“The first man was Adam, who disobeyed God and was condemned by Him. Adam was responsible for bringing sin and death into the world.”

This is not so much a demonstrable first principle as it is a reasonable deduction from one. That is, it is difficult to find “essential teaching” that spells this out in so many words. (For example, nothing is found about sin and death per se in the “Acts statement”.) But it must be true that, since the sacrifice of Christ is the means of saving us from death, we need to be clear as to what death really is before we can appreciate our potential deliverance from it! What we need not do, however, is add to an “essential” statement matters of secondary importance and/or second-level logical deduction.

The phrase “sin in the flesh”, which occurs in DR 27, is found only once in the whole Bible (Rom. 8:3). There is perhaps some legitimate disagreement, even among Christadelphians in good standing, as to what the phrase means. There is even some disagreement — in fact — as to whether it is a phrase: i.e., “sin-in-the-flesh” (with hyphens understood). In other words, did God condemn (a) “sin-in-the-flesh”, or (b) “sin” in the flesh?

If “sin in the flesh” means the human tendency to sin, inherent in our nature, then plainly — as DR 27 states — it would be fundamentally wrong to deny its existence. But it is also redundant to state this principle in DR 27, in the light of its already being stated in BASF III, IV, and V (and ASF 5, 6, and 9).

(g) The “soul”

Just as it is necessary to understand death, so it is necessary to understand the Scriptural definition of “soul”. The ASF (7) and the BASF (IV, DR 7,8) are equivalent on this matter (except for BASF’s aforementioned use of “very good”).

(h) “Hell”

Likewise with the Scriptural definition of “hell”. The ASF (8) and the BASF (DR 8, 9) are equivalent here.

(i) The sacrifice of Christ

The ASF has:  

“Although he was of our weak and sinful nature, Jesus was enabled, through faith in and love for his Father, to overcome all temptation and to live a righteous and sinless life. His crucifixion — accomplished by wicked men but according to God’s plan — was the means by which he was saved, and by which those who believe in him may be saved from sin and death. God was working in the sacrifice of His Son to express His love and grace and forbearance toward all men — not His wrath against them” (9).

The BASF has:

“...Jesus Christ, who was to be raised up in the condemned line of Abraham and David, and who, though wearing their condemned nature, was to obtain a title to resurrection by perfect obedience, and, by dying, abrogate the law of condemnation for himself and all who should believe and obey him” (VIII). “...the miraculous begettal of Christ of a human mother, enabling him to bear our condemnation, and, at the same time, to be a sinless bearer thereof, and, therefore, one who could rise after suffering the death required by the righteousness of God (IX). “...put to death by the Jews and Romans, who were, however, but instruments in the hands of God, for the doing of that which He had determined before to be done — viz., the condemnation of sin in the flesh, through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all, as a propitiation to declare the righteousness of God, as a basis for the remission of sins. All who approach God through this crucified, but risen, representative of Adam’s disobedient race, are forgiven. Therefore, by a figure, his blood cleanseth from sin” (XII).

The BASF covers everything that is an “essential doctrine” in the area of the Atonement. But clearly, the BASF goes into more detail on certain “Atonement” points than seems warranted by the evidence for the ASF.

Even then, it is noteworthy that many of the typical Christadelphian legalisms and technicalities concerning the Atonement are not found in the BASF: “alienation”, “inherited alienation”, “Adamic condemnation”, “clean flesh”. Even the term “resurrectional responsibility” is not to be found in the BASF.

The phrase “to obtain a title to resurrection” (VIII) implies a “mechanical” or “process” orientation to the question of Jesus’ salvation. Hence the argument as to the “basis” for his resurrection (and then, secondarily, to the supposed “basis” for the resurrection of others). Such legal technicalities, possibly interesting in themselves, might well be avoided in a discussion of true “essential doctrines”, as the ASF bears out. In terms of fundamental doctrine, it is enough to know “what”; it is perhaps interesting but not essential to know “how” and “why”.

Also, the phrase “to bear our condemnation” — used about Christ (BASF IX) — has implied to some readers that a degree of personal guilt is thereby attached to Christ. Of course, this is very wrong. Such an idea need not even be hinted at in any “essential doctrine” — and this wording is not included in the ASF.

And so ASF 9 expresses Jesus’ participation in, and benefit from, his own sacrifice in quite simple terms. Some readers might wish for a fuller statement, but the “first principles” evidence does not warrant it.

Interesting though it might be for “experts” to probe into the “mechanics” of the Atonement, such matters need not concern the unbaptized or the “novices”. The car can carry the passenger, or the driver for that matter, from Point A to Point B even if he does not know the difference between a carburetor and a radiator. It may be good and useful to know such things, but strictly speaking it is not necessary. (And the “car” of Christ’s atonement is not going to break down along the road!) Some Christadelphians seem to think that a person must be a professionally certified auto mechanic before he is allowed even to get into a car!

Some of our divisions might well have been avoided if, for the sake of the One Body, we had settled on the simplest defensible teaching of the Atonement as our “first principle”!

(j) The resurrection of Christ

A mild quibble might be had with the BASF, which states that the resurrection of Christ occurred “on the third day” (XIII), whereas the Bible sometimes says “after three days” (Matt. 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:31). (This may merely be a difference between Hebrew and Greek or Roman methods of counting days.) At any rate, and while somehow connected to a “third day”, the exact time of Christ’s resurrection is certainly not on the same order of importance as the true first principles.

Otherwise, the fit between ASF (10) and BASF (XIII) is perfect.

(k) The mediatorship of Christ

The ASF reads as follows:

“Being exalted to God’s right hand in heaven, Jesus is the only priest and mediator between God and men” (11).

The BASF has:

“[Jesus was] the heavens as priestly mediator between God and man, in the process of gathering from among them a people who should be saved by the belief and obedience of the truth” (XIII).

The significant feature of each is the same, as expressed in one of the Pastoral Letters’ “sayings of faith”:

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

Continuing, BASF Clause XIV presents some problems:

“That he is a priest over his own house only, and does not intercede for the world, or for professors who are abandoned to disobedience. That he makes intercession for his erring brethren, if they confess and forsake their sins.”

Is it true that, as high priest, Jesus never intercedes for anyone other than his obedient brethren? It may be true that forgiveness of sins is only obtainable to those who enter into covenant relationship with God, and Christ as high priest and mediator is certainly involved with this. But does he not even begin the process with those not yet in such covenant relationship?

One of the proof texts quoted with BASF XIV is 1 Timothy 2:5. This reads, in context with vv. 1,3,4,6,7:

“ I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men... For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher [and] a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.”

The use of the phrases “all men” and “all” and “Gentiles” in the context of 1 Timothy 2 plainly points to those not yet in Christ’s household. Can it be right that Christ cannot intercede at all for such as they?

Then there is, of course, the case of Cornelius. Though not as yet baptized, his prayers were heard by God (Acts 10:2,4,31) — presumably through Christ the high priest and the only mediator between God and men. And the one whom Peter calls “Lord” (vv. 14,36; 11:8,16,21) answers Cornelius’ prayer by sending Peter to teach the Roman soldier and his household the way of life (one of the “first principles” lectures in Acts).

It is also true that Jesus said, “I pray not for the world” (John 17:9), and that it is “we” (the baptized believers) who surely have a “high priest” (Heb. 4:14,15; 8:1) and an “advocate” (1 John 2:1). But are those not yet in the “house”, but moving in that direction, merely “the world”? And even if they are not yet “we” (i.e., baptized believers), can it be true that Christ is bound to take no notice of them whatsoever?

The collateral matters (upon which XIV touches) of repentance, baptism, and forgiveness of sins (only through Christ) are dealt with elsewhere in the BASF (and of course in the ASF also); there is no need to repeat these matters in another clause.

On balance, therefore, BASF XIV might well be omitted from any statement of “essential doctrines”.

(l) The second coming of Christ

The ASF (12) and the BASF (XIX, XX) are identical as to essential doctrines.

(m) Resurrection and judgment (resurrectional responsibility)

ASF: “After his return, Jesus will raise many of the dead, the faithful and the unfaithful. He will also send forth his angels to gather them together with the living to the great judgment” (13). “The unfaithful will be punished with a second, eternal death. The faithful will be rewarded, by God’s grace, with everlasting life on the earth, receiving glorified and immortal bodies” (14).

BASF: “That at the appearing of Christ prior to the establishment of the Kingdom, the responsible (namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it), dead and living — obedient and disobedient — will be summoned before his judgment seat ‘to be judged according to their works’; and ‘receive in body according to what they have done, whether it be good or bad’ ” (XXIV). “That the unfaithful will be consigned to shame and ‘the second death’, and the faithful, invested with immortality, and exalted to reign with Jesus as joint heirs of the kingdom, co-possessors of the earth, and joint administrators of God’s authority among men in everything” (XXV).

Like the original Birmingham Statement (before the Amendment of 1898), the ASF does not attempt to define the “responsible” — except to say, in Clause 14, that the “faithful” and “unfaithful” will appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is equivalent to the BASF in XXV, which uses the identical words “faithful” and “unfaithful”. [For that matter, Clause XXIV of the BASF originally read: “the responsible (faithful and unfaithful), dead and living of both classes”. The parenthetical phrase was dropped out of the original Clause XXIV to make room for the parenthetical amendment.]

This ASF 14 is absolutely Biblical, being based upon a “first principles” passage (Acts 24:15) which uses terms of identical meaning in defining those who are “responsible” to a resurrectional judgment:

“There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust...” (KJV).

“...the dead, both the righteous and the wicked...” (NIV).

“...the dead, both the just and the unjust...” (RSV).

It is true that one early Christadelphian Statement of Faith (by John Thomas) seemed to limit the resurrectionally “responsible” to those of “the household” (see chapter 10). But surely the description “unjust” (or “unfaithful”) always allowed for the possibility that, besides all the unfaithful who are validly baptized or otherwise in covenant with God, some unbaptized (who are “unjust”/“unfaithful” too) will also be raised to condemnation. In Acts 24:15, the word translated “unjust” is the Greek adikos; other uses of the same original word plainly include the unbaptized:

Again in the immediate context of Acts 24:15, the Gentile ruler Felix, who heard these words of Paul about a “resurrection of the wicked”, grew fearful when — only a few days later — Paul spoke to him again of “the 1 judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). If a resurrection of the “wicked” or the “unjust” (v. 15) plainly held no threat at all for any unbaptized Gentile, why did Felix tremble when told of the judgment? 2

The analysis of “essential doctrines” in “The Apostles’ ‘First Principles’ Lectures” section (chapter 6) demonstrates that Deuteronomy 18:15,19 and its context formed part of the teaching presented as a preliminary to baptism:

“The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken...I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.”

It is true that these words were spoken by Moses to the children of Israel, and not to Gentiles, and that — likewise — they are quoted by Peter when addressing the children of Israel again (Acts 3:22,23). But...the warning includes the serious, all-inclusive “whosoever”! It is the same inclusiveness used by Peter in Acts 2:39:

“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

The promise of blessing, even when spoken to Jews, is also to “all that are afar off” (i.e., Gentiles: Eph. 2:13,17; 3:5-8; Isa. 57:19). Surely — if those same “all” knowingly and willfully refuse the offer of such a promise — they cannot expect to avoid the effect of such refusal: “Whosoever will not hearken to my words... I will require it of him.”

The history of the “resurrectional responsibility” division indicates that the original Clause XXIV was at the time of its drafting understood to allow for the unbaptized responsible, who had refused to give heed to the words of Christ. But a prominent English brother (J.J. Andrew of London) began to teach, in the 1890s, that those responsible to a resurrectional judgment could not possibly include any who were either uncircumcised (in the Mosaic dispensation) or unbaptized (in the Christian dispensation), because such were not cleansed from “Adamic condemnation” by the “blood of the covenant”, and thus could not be delivered, even briefly and by Divine decree, from the curse of an “eternal death”. 3 The controversy from this new (or, if not so “new”, then “newly prominent”) teaching led the Birmingham Christadelphian Ecclesia to change its Statement of Faith in an attempt to rule out the teaching that Christ could not raise and judge any who were unbaptized.

However, the brief analysis above suggests that a careful reading of the original clause (even before the Amendment) — with its reference to the “unfaithful” — should have ruled out such teaching in the first place. Then there would have been no need for an amendment of doubtful meaning and application.

The amendment defines the responsible as “namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it”. (It does not say, as some suggest, that the “responsible” are all who know the Gospel; it might even be argued that it pointedly avoids saying such a thing.)

The amendment was, and is, doubtful as to its meaning, since who can truly know (a) if another has not only known enough of the will of God, but especially (b) if that same person has been called upon (by God? by man? and in what manner?) to submit to it. And thus, of course, it was, and is, doubtful as to its application in individual cases: Few if any Christadelphians ever try to apply the Scriptural warnings about resurrectional judgment to specific individuals — and that is as it should be.

More might be said about the ambiguities of the amendment. For example, what does “those who know” really mean? Some might say, ‘What a foolish question! The answer is obvious!’ But is it? There are two primary Greek words translated “to know”:

Understandably, there is not always a perfectly clear demarcation between these two Greek words — gray areas do exist. However, depending on which of the above definitions is given the word “know” in the Amendment, the statement can be made to mean very different things. In other words, in order to be responsible to resurrectional judgment, how much need one know? And how well need one know it? Who can say for sure?

Secondly, there is of course uncertainty about the phrase “called upon to submit to it”. The very reasonable questions have been asked: ‘How does God call men?’ ‘How can we ever know which — if any — among the unbaptized today have been truly called by God?’ In fact, to be “called” — Scripturally — goes far beyond “knowledge”:

“Those he called, he also justified” (Rom. 8:30).

“...Live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thes. 2:12).

“...As members of one body you were called to peace” (Col. 3:15; also see Rom. 8:28; 9:23,24; Eph. 4:1; Jude 1).

Such examples could be multiplied many times over. In fact, out of more than 100 passages, the concept of “calling” is almost invariably associated with those who have been or go on to be baptized.

What does all this mean? Among other things, it means that the Amendment was and is so worded that one might accept it while still not believing that all “enlightened rejectors” (whatever that means, exactly) will be raised and judged by Christ at his coming.

And, to stretch the point a bit further, it means that the amendment is so worded that one might accept it while having reservations about the resurrection to judgment of any “enlightened rejectors” in this modern age, when the Holy Spirit is not openly manifest. How? Because, in the absence of Holy Spirit guidance, none of us can determine how much an unbaptized person must “know” or, indeed, whether that “knowledge” must be theoretical or practical, impersonal or personal, objective or subjective. And, finally, because none of us can really determine how and when, or even if, any unbaptized person has been Scripturally “called” by God.

The following point needs to be made, and stressed: The original Birmingham Statement of Faith (used by many ecclesias even today, and generally referred to as the “Unamended Statement”) is not in opposition to the “Amended Statement”. How can this be said? Because the original Clause XXIV, along with Clause XXV, plainly teaches that the resurrectionally “responsible” includes the “unfaithful”, and because — as the passages above, such as 1 Corinthians 6:1 and 1 Peter 3:18, indicate — there is no Biblical warrant for limiting the “unfaithful” to the baptized class only.

Are the unbaptized raised upon a different “basis” than the baptized? Such a question implies that, for fellowship purposes, we must know the means (the “why” and the “how”) as well as the end (the “who”). To ask such question is to move the discussion from a “first principles” matter to a non-essential matter. And so, to pursue such a question as though it were a “first principle” is to create an artificial barrier where none need exist. The course of wisdom? Agree on the essential doctrine, and then discuss further details only with other “experts” who need — or think they need — to know!

So, should there have been a division in the first place? While making allowances for our lack of firsthand knowledge of those times, one may be tempted to think that, had the Christadelphian body given due prominence and weight to the (unarguably) fundamental Bible teaching of the One Body, they might have found a way to prevent a serious and destructive division.

The more responsible (!) question now is: what can be done about such a division? And the simple answer is: The minority (i.e., the “Unamended” in North America) — if not truly believers in what may be called the J.J. Andrew error — should ask themselves, in the spirit of the fundamental Bible teaching on the One Body: ‘Why have we resisted for so long a statement which essentially occurs in our own (“Unamended”) Statement of Faith anyway?’

And, going one step further, the majority (i.e., the “Amended”) might ask themselves: ‘Why have we made our own special interpretation of a vague amendment [Remember, it does not say, “All who know will be raised”!] the test of fellowship for everyone else — thus raising a relatively minor matter to such an extraordinary level?’ And...‘Have we used our Statement of Faith as a weapon to punish (or a wall to exclude) those who differ from us only slightly and on a secondary matter?’

  1. The Greek text of Acts 24:25 has the definite article.
  2. Notice: This does not prove that Felix will be raised for judgment. But it strongly implies that Felix, having heard the preaching of Paul, thought it possible he could be raised for judgment
  3. There is no intention here to condemn any individual. It has been argued that J.J. Andrew did NOT teach that God could not, or even would not, raise anyone not in “covenant relationship”. This may be so; it is a matter of interpretation and opinion. Even if it is so, the above point should still be made — since some today may go further than Brother Andrew, and since we must deal with principles in any case.

(n) Resurrection and judgment (“immortal emergence”)

The BASF has these relevant Doctrines to be Rejected:

15. That the tribunal of Christ, when he comes, is not for the judgment of saints, but merely to divide among them different degrees of reward.

16. That the resurrection is confined to the faithful.

17. That the dead rise in an immortal state.

As discussed in the previous section, the clearly essential doctrines concerning this subject include:

The Doctrines to be Rejected, above, are plainly the negative restatements of these positive “first principles”.

One Scripture passage presents a significant problem. The Bible teaching that the dead do not rise in an immortal state seems to be contradicted by the words of Paul to the Corinthians:

“The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52,53).

However, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is equating “resurrection” with the whole process (resurrection, judgment, and glorification) culminating in the Kingdom of God. That is (letting verse 53 interpret verse 52), ‘the dead shall be put on incorruption’! Paul’s own words elsewhere (i.e., Rom. 2:6-8; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Thes. 4:14-17; 2 Tim. 4:1) give the step-by-step details of this process, and should be studied alongside 1 Corinthians 15.

There are other examples of the Bible speaking of “resurrection” as a finished work, with no indication of any judgment whatsoever or any rejection of the unworthy: Luke 20:33,35; John 5:29; Philippians 3:8-11; Hebrews 11:35; and probably Revelation 20:6.

It is possible that a “statement of faith” may quote 1 Corinthians 15:53,54 without teaching false doctrine. (How can the direct quoting of Scripture ever be false?) But, to be consistent with other plainly essential teachings, the words “raised incorruptible” (1 Cor. 15:52) would have to mean something like: ‘raised, then judged, and then glorified’ — even if such process were almost instantaneous after the literal coming forth from the grave.

It should be said, moreover, that there is no real Bible proof for the length of time (no matter how long or how short) involved in the process of resurrection, judgment, and reward. But any theory that denies that a literal resurrection will be followed by a literal judgment is — by the earlier tests — plainly a false doctrine.

Finally, it must be noted that there is no conclusive Bible proof for any specific procedure of judgment; it cannot be proven as a first principle, for example, that every responsible person has, one by one, his or her own individual “trial”. Certain “judgment” verses indeed might be interpreted this way (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10), but other “judgment” verses imply very much otherwise (Matt. 13:48,49; 24:40,41; 25:32; Luke 17:34-36). But, once again, the true “first principles” passages require a literal judgment — no matter how the details are arranged by Christ and his angels.

(o) The promises to Abraham

ASF: “The promises made to Abraham, confirmed to Isaac and Jacob, and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, require a literal inheritance in the earth for Christ and all the faithful, who are the spiritual ‘seed of Abraham’. The righteous do not go to heaven at death” (15).

BASF: “That the kingdom which he will establish will be the kingdom of Israel restored, in the territory it formerly occupied, viz., the land bequeathed for an everlasting possession to Abraham and his seed (the Christ) by covenant” (XXI). “That the governing body of the kingdom so established will be the brethren of Christ, of all generations, developed by resurrection and change, and constituting, with Christ as their head, the collective ‘seed of Abraham’, in whom all nations will be blessed, and comprising ‘Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets’, and all in their age of like faithfulness” (XXIII).

Doctrine to be Rejected: “That the righteous will ascend to the kingdoms beyond the skies when they die” (10).

The hope of Abraham is the hope of the gospel, and the hope of all true believers. The promises made to Abraham are among the most completely attested of all first principles in the Book of Acts; they are the subject of comment by Peter, Stephen, and Paul alike. They form the basis for other first principles, including the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, the Kingdom of God, the promises to David, and baptism (“If ye be Abraham’s seed...”).

There is essentially a perfect fit between the Biblically-derived ASF and the BASF on this matter. (The implication in BASF XXI that the Kingdom of God will not encompass the whole earth is actually modified and explained by the elaboration in Clause XXII — that Jerusalem will become the metropolis, or capital, of the whole earth.)

(p) The promises to David

ASF: “The promises made to David, and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, require Jesus to sit on David’s throne and rule over God’s Kingdom, which is the kingdom of Israel restored. Jerusalem will be the capital of this kingdom” (16).

BASF: “That this restoration of the kingdom again to Israel will involve the ingathering of God’s chosen but scattered nation, the Jews; their reinstatement in the land of their fathers, when it shall have been reclaimed from ‘the desolation of many generations’; the building again of Jerusalem to become ‘the throne of the Lord’ and the metropolis of the whole earth” (XXII).

The promises to David are, like the promises to Abraham, intensively discussed by Peter and Paul in the “first principles lectures” of Acts. Once again, there is a nearly perfect fit between the ASF and the BASF.

(q) The Kingdom of God

This is not so much a separate first principle as it is an addendum to the promises to Abraham and David; this explains the lack of “essential doctrine” verses appended to Clause 17 in the ASF. The words of the Old Testament prophets (David, Isaiah, Daniel, Micah, Habbakuk, etc.) and the New Testament prophets (Jesus, Paul, and John in Revelation) are — of course — equally inspired with the “essential doctrines” verses in Acts, etc. But,

With these considerations in mind, we compare the ASF 17 and the BASF XXVI through XXX, along with Doctrines to be Rejected 12, 14, 18, and 29. The statements of ASF 17 are few and simple, and verified by other first principle teachings and numerous other verses:

“Jesus will be assisted by his immortal brothers and sisters in ruling over the mortal peoples in the Kingdom of God. This kingdom will result in everlasting righteousness, happiness, and peace. Finally all sin and death will be removed, and the earth will at last be filled with the glory of God. The earth will not be literally burned up or destroyed.”

On the other hand, the “Kingdom” portions of the BASF are quite extensive and less well-attested:

XXVI. The “thousand years” (Rev. 20:4-8) is mentioned nowhere else in the whole of Scripture. It was apparently unheard of through long ages of inspired writings, until John received the Apocalypse.

The supposed pattern of a divine “week” of precisely 7,000 years, with a 1,000-year “Sabbath day” at the end, is based on 2 Peter 3:8 and very little else. But careful reading of 2 Peter 3 suggests just the opposite: that God operates on His own quite flexible timetable, and that time is almost infinitely expandable (“a day is with the Lord as a thousand years”) or contractible (“a thousand years as one day”) as He may choose.

It is (or should be) axiomatic that fundamental doctrine cannot be based solely on one Bible passage. It should be doubly axiomatic that fundamental doctrine cannot be based solely on one passage from the Book of Revelation (which is prophetic, and figurative to a very high degree). And, when it is considered that all the other time periods in Revelation (1,260 days; 42 months; 3 1/2 years; 10 days; 3 1/2 days; an hour; half an hour; etc.) are often interpreted figuratively, then it would appear unwise to base an essential, saving Truth on one reference to a time period in Revelation! Might it just be possible that “a thousand years” is symbolic of a very, very long time (like the “144 thousand” may be symbolic of a very, very large number of people)?

Furthermore, is the passage in Ezekiel (44:22,25) — also cited for Clause XXVI — about mortal or immortal priests? About an earlier temple (planned, or actual) or a literal Temple of the Kingdom Age? The answers to these questions are by no means certain enough to constitute part of saving Bible Truth.

XXVII. This clause contains nothing questionable, and is matched by parts of ASF 17.

XXVIII. Once again, reference to a “thousand years” is questionable.

XXIX. This is the third clause in which the “thousand years” has a prominent part. Also, the “general resurrection and judgment” at the close of the “thousand years” — being based on a single passage (Rev. 20:11-15), and without corroboration elsewhere — cannot be considered fundamental doctrine. The order of events in Revelation 20, in addition to their placement with regard to the (literal or symbolic) “thousand years”, is also subject to various expositions, more than one being reasonable and possible and compatible with all true “first principles”. If interpretations of Last Days prophecies need to be approached carefully, with due allowances for human fallibility...surely this is more so true with events which may or may not occur more than 1,000 years hence, and on the other side of the “great divide” of Christ’s coming and God’s direct intervention in world affairs. Surely a little humility is in order here. And surely we would be wrong to exclude from our fellowship those who believe all fundamental Bible teachings, yet have some uncertainties in their minds about exactly how God will continue to fulfill His purpose a thousand or more years from now!

XXX. This clause is nothing more than an effort to expound the “all in all” of 1 Corinthians 15:28. No other Bible passage is (or can be) quoted on this matter. How can this be a “first principle”?

DR 12. It is a “doctrine to be rejected” “that the Kingdom of God is ‘the church’.” But should it be? It would be unanimously agreed among Christadelphians that “the church”, or ecclesia, is not the Kingdom of God in final realization or in actual fact. But is it as certain that the ecclesia is not the Kingdom of God in prospect, in development, or (if you will) in “embryo”?

Robert Roberts, for instance, wrote that “the Kingdom of God is not exclusively an affair of futurity...”, but that it is also seen in the aspect of being “first introduced to any man called to be an heir thereof”. He went on to write of the Kingdom of God being like “leaven” (Matt. 13:33), “put into the mass or bulk of human the gospel preached by the apostles”, etc., etc. If this is not equating the Kingdom of God, in its formative phase, with the “church” or ecclesia, then it is simply not possible to understand his words.

Indeed, it is fair to say that the great majority of references to “kingdom” in the New Testament have to do, not with the Kingdom of God in its future manifestation, but with the Kingdom of God as presently preached, and as presently believed upon in the “church” — that is, in its present phase among believers today, over whom the Father is the Eternal King, and in whom Christ reigns by faith. (Consider, as only a few examples, Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; 11:11,12; 13:24,31,44,45,47; Luke 17:20,21; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9.)

This is not to say that the Kingdom of God, in its future reality, is not a tremendously important Bible teaching. But why introduce wording of an alleged “first principle” which so overstates the case, and is so susceptible of criticism, and so necessary of further explanation, as DR 12?

DR 14, 18. The “thousand years” seems to have inspired great fascination in the framers of the BASF!

DR 29. This is clearly a first principle, since the literal destruction of the earth itself would be a plain negation of the “essential doctrines” of the promises to Abraham, the promises to David, and the Kingdom of God. This doctrine has a perfect counterpart in the last sentence of ASF 17.

(r) The “devil”, “Satan”, and “demons”

The BASF says only that it is a “doctrine to be rejected” “that the devil is a supernatural personal being” (11). Surprisingly, the BASF has nothing at all to say about “Satan” and “devils/demons”.

The ASF is much more complete, dealing briefly with “Satan” and “devils” (literally, “demons” in the Greek), as well as the “devil” — though primarily in the context of what they are not! The “first principles” passages in Acts, Ephesians 4, and the Pastoral Letters have nothing to say directly about the “devil”, “Satan”, or “demons”. It may be concluded, therefore, that teachings about these concepts are only of “first principles” status if they directly contradict true “first principles” (such as the One God or the One Lord).

That is, belief in an immortal but wicked “fallen angel” not under God’s authority would be, in effect, belief in a second “god” or a second “lord”, and a serious false doctrine. On the other hand, belief in an angel of God acting, with God’s authority, as a “Satan” or Adversary in a specific instance would be acceptable.

Thus it may be possible for two believers, without either of them denying a truly essential doctrine, to hold quite different views upon certain Bible passages: e.g., the nature of Christ’s tempter in the wilderness, the identity of “Satan” in the Book of Job, or the source of the “demonic” illnesses in the gospel records.

(s) Justification by faith

The ASF teaches that men are justified, or declared righteous, not through their own works, but by the grace of God (20). However — while mentioning the “forgiveness of sins” (XII), which plainly implies grace — the BASF also has the (erroneous, or at least misleading) statement that “the way to obtain this salvation is” (among other things) to continue “patiently in the observance of all things he has commanded” (XVI)! This appears, on the surface at least, to teach justification by works and thus to contradict the “essential doctrine” of justification by faith. (See more on this in chapter 16.) This lapse is, in this writer’s opinion, a serious flaw! But, thankfully, we do not seem truly to believe this: common Christadelphian teaching is well in advance of what was surely an unintentional error in the BASF.

(t) Baptism

Both statements teach that understanding of the gospel, and belief or faith in it, must precede baptism (ASF 20, 21; BASF XVI).

The ASF teaches that men must turn to God and show repentance by forsaking their wicked ways and performing God’s will. But the BASF has no specific reference to conversion or repentance in connection with baptism! (Repentance is mentioned, more generally, in BASF XI.) Surely this is merely an oversight.

The ASF teaches that men must be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Likewise, the BASF (XII and XVI).

The ASF teaches that men must be baptized in order to become heirs of the Abrahamic covenant. Likewise, the BASF (XVI along with XXI).

The ASF teaches that baptism is symbolic of a new, spiritual birth. The BASF has no specific reference to baptism as a new birth! Surely an oversight again.

(u) The one body

Those who believe the gospel and are baptized into Christ become ‘brethren in Christ’, without regard to nationality. They also become a part of the ‘one body’, with Christ as their head. God calls them His children, and they become partakers of His grace and love” (ASF 22).

One looks in vain for any equivalent statement in the BASF. One may wonder if, perhaps, many of our problems and divisions might have been alleviated or even avoided altogether if we as a body had kept our eyes upon this principle.

“The body is one” (1 Cor. 12:12). It is the Father’s wisdom generally to place believers together in “families”. We are all, whether we like it or not, members of a body. No man should live to himself; that would be selfishness, and a direct contradiction of Paul’s elaborate allegory in 1 Corinthians 12. One of the most important lessons of our spiritual education is to “discern the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:29): to learn to think and to act unselfishly as a member of the One Body, and not selfishly as a separate entity, even as regards our own salvation.

The body is one, yet it has many members (v. 12). Some are less beautiful or feebler than others (vv. 22,23), but these too are necessary. “God hath tempered the body together” (v. 24); these individuals have been welded together with the ecclesia. In faith and obedience they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Those for whom Christ died must not be treated haughtily or indifferently.

“And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you” (v. 21).

So Paul presses home the point: There should be no schism (division) in the Body (v. 25). “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (v. 26). Life itself teaches everyone that pain in one member affects the whole body; and the loss of one member, even a small toe, can seriously affect the wellbeing and balance of the whole.

It was no meaningless rhetoric that Moses used when he sought to interpose himself as a sacrifice on behalf of his erring countrymen (Exod. 32:30-33). Neither is it to be thought strange that Nehemiah and David and Daniel and the other prophets showed no sign of dissociating themselves from Israel, no matter how wayward their brethren became. (And even when Jeremiah ceased praying for his brethren, it was God’s decision and not his! — Jer. 14:11.) These men had learned the Bible doctrine of the One Body, and the necessity to love one another, long before Paul was even born.

The implication of the Bible teaching of the “One Body” should be plain: An ecclesia must have clear and undeniable grounds — involving plain denial of essential teachings or serious unrepented-of moral failings — to justify its disfellowship or excommunication of any believer.

Are we afraid that living by this standard of the “One Body” will put us in danger of being contaminated by association with weak or sinful men? Then we must remember that the ecclesia does not exist to keep the Truth pure as a theory (i.e., ‘The purer our ecclesia, the better!’). The Truth (as an abstract principle, or set of principles communicated from God) cannot be anything but pure! The ecclesia does exist to help impure men and women (with imperfect beliefs and impure ways) to move toward purity, even if their progress is slow.

Consequently, certain Bible passages imply a very different treatment for false teachers than for those who are falsely taught. After appropriate warnings, false teachers must be summarily dealt with, even to the point of being rejected or disfellowshipped (see, e.g., 1 Tim. 6:3; Tit. 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3:16; Rev. 2:20; and chapter 2 of Biblical Fellowship). On the other hand, those who have been misled by such false teaching must be carefully and patiently instructed again — so as to be saved (see, e.g., Matt. 18:5-7; Rom. 14:1; Gal. 6:1,2; Jude 22,23). So important is the teaching of the One Body — that the ecclesia of Christ cannot afford to lose even one member who might by love and tact and longsuffering be reclaimed!

This idea — of the One Body and its purpose in God’s plan — should be kept in mind by every individual, and every ecclesia, when dealing with every other brother and in every “fellowship” situation, and when considering every so-called “first principle”.

(v) The breaking of bread

“The breaking of bread and drinking of wine, in remembrance of Jesus, was instituted by him for his true followers. It is a means of affirming their status as members of the ‘one body’ of Christ. It is a commandment to be obeyed whenever possible” (ASF 23).

Once again, on this question the BASF has...NOTHING! Into this vacuum, into this “house swept and garnished”, has entered by default the “theory” that one may lightly refuse the bread and wine to anyone who does not totally agree with him. As if to say (and it has been said!), ‘Better to give the Lord the benefit of the doubt, and cut off anyone about whom we have the least reservation!’ And further, ‘Let’s not forget also to cut off anyone else — even if fundamentally sound — who can’t go along with us in our first decision of cutting off!’ And even...‘Of course, we never judge others; we just politely “stand aside” from them!‘

Might our brotherhood have been much better off (might we not be much better off yet?) if we had thought of the breaking of bread positively, rather than negatively? If we have thought of it as something to share joyfully (the “feast of love”!), much more than as something to withhold prudently? If we had thought of the tokens of fellowship in the One Body as not our own, but Christ’s? If we had thought of the ecclesia itself as not ours, but Christ’s? And if we had thought of the ecclesia as a house with a “door” through which to invite others in, rather than merely as a house with “walls” to keep others out and to hide ourselves behind?

Once and for all, let us see the “one body” and the “breaking of bread” as true first principles (Acts 2:42; 10:34-36; Rom. 12:1,4,5; 1 Cor. 10:16,17; 12:12-27; Eph. 4:4). Then it may be possible for us to recognize, for the first time, that there is at least as much danger in refusing the bread and wine to those who believe the gospel, as there is in offering them to those who may be in error on some first principle.

“For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy” (James 2:13).

(w) The Jews

The primacy of the Jews, and their ultimate place in the plan and purpose of the God of Israel, are the subjects of a separate clause in the ASF (24). These matters might well have been dealt with as parts of other clauses, such as those on the promises to Abraham and David, and the Kingdom of God. The final regeneration of those who are Israelites indeed will be on the same principle as that of Gentile believers in all ages: belief of the one gospel, repentance, conversion, and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

The BASF deals with the same matters as parts of several other clauses (XXI and XXII), and as one Doctrine to be Rejected (33). A small note of caution, however: BASF XXII appears to suggest that the nation of Israel, being God’s “chosen”, will be reinstated in God’s Kingdom with no regard to faith and repentance on their part. Surely this will not be the case, God being no respecter of persons. But the absence of any statement to the contrary may lead some to that erroneous conclusion.

With this slight caveat, it may be said that there is good equivalence between the two statements as regards the Jews.

(x) Other “doctrines to be rejected”

The following Doctrines to be Rejected have no real counterparts in the ASF: 13, 19, 20, 32, 34, and 35.

DR 13: “That the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ merely”: This is redundant, since the whole of the ASF or BASF defines the “gospel”, and since it is already abundantly clear that the “Gospel” is much more than the above.

DR 19 and 32 have to do with the keeping of the Law of Moses as a means to life. This has already been effectively counteracted by the positive teachings of ASF and BASF. It is not necessary to state it again.

DR 20 is susceptible of misinterpretation. It is true enough that Sunday should not be kept as the Mosaic Sabbath. But it is equally true that the breaking of bread should be kept whenever possible (ASF 23), and — since this is usually done on a Sunday (cp. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2) — DR 20 might imply that this observance is unnecessary, which would be very wrong.

DR 34 and 35 might better be dealt with under the general heading of the Commandments of Christ, with some latitude allowed to ecclesias to apply the commandments to specific cases at their own discretion (see chapter 16).

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