George Booker
What Are The First Principles?

16. The Commandments of Christ

A list of the commandments of Christ, which also includes the commandments specifically communicated by the apostles and others in their New Testament writings, has since the beginning been appended to every Christadelphian statement of faith. This is altogether reasonable, inasmuch as obedience to these commandments is surely a part of the “first principles” of the One Faith.

As indicated earlier, the BASF appears to suggest, however, that the keeping of all the commandments is an essential for salvation (XVI). Surely this was not the intention of the original framers. (Nor, in this writer’s experience, is this what is taught among Christadelphians — thank God!) The Bible, and the Apostolic Statement of Faith, plainly teach that men are justified or declared “righteous” through their faith and not their works. (“Man cannot save himself by his own works alone, no matter how good or numerous”: ASF 20):

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).

Nevertheless, works are important. As the passage above indicates: while grace saves, good works are one of the tools God uses as He continues to work upon us, so as to produce — at last — the “workmanship” of Christ’s “new creation” in us: “All those who believe these teachings should strive also to live godly, Christ-like lives...The commandments of Christ...are therefore an important part of any Statement of Faith” (ASF 25). Not to earn salvation, but to strengthen and complete and perfect one’s faith (James 2:14-26), and thus to keep oneself in the one place where forgiveness is available, and where salvation may at last be received!

One such list of the commandments of Christ, and the apostles:

  1. Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you (Matt. 5:44).
  2. Resist not evil: if a man smites you on one cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:39,40).
  3. Avenge not yourselves; instead, give place to wrath; and suffer yourselves to be defrauded (Rom. 12:18,19; 1 Cor. 6:7).
  4. If a man takes away your goods, do not ask for them again (Luke 6:29,30).
  5. Agree with your adversary quickly, submitting even to wrong for the sake of peace (Matt. 5:25; 1 Cor. 6:7).
  6. Do not labor to be rich; be ready to every good work; give to those who ask; relieve the afflicted (1 Tim. 6:8; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:16; James 1:27).
  7. Do not do your good deeds so as to be seen by men; do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt. 6:1-4).
  8. Do not recompense to any man evil for evil; overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:17).
  9. Bless them that curse you; let no cursing come out of your mouth (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14).
  10. Do not render evil for evil, or railing for railing, but rather, blessing (1 Pet. 3:9).
  11. Pray for them that persecute you and afflict you (Matt. 5:44).
  12. Do not hold grudges; do not judge; do not complain; do not condemn (James 5:9; Matt. 7:1).
  13. Put away anger, wrath, bitterness, and all evil speaking (Eph. 4:31; 1 Pet. 2:1).
  14. Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16).
  15. Do not be conformed to this world; love not the world (Rom. 12:2; 1 John 2:15; James 4:4).
  16. Deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts. If your right hand offends you, cut if off (Tit. 2:12; Matt. 5:30).
  17. Servants, be faithful, even to bad masters (Eph. 6:5-8).
  18. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate (Rom. 12:16).
  19. Owe no man anything (Rom. 13:7,8).
  20. In case of sin (known or heard of) do not speak of it to others, but tell the offending brother of the matter between you and him alone, with a view to recovery (Matt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1).
  21. Love the Lord your God with all your heart (Matt. 22:37).
  22. Pray always; pray with brevity and simplicity; pray secretly (Luke 18:1; Matt. 6:7).
  23. In everything give thanks to God and recognize Him in all your ways (Eph. 5:20; Prov. 3:6).
  24. As you would have men do to you, do also to them (Matt. 7:12).
  25. Take Christ for an example and follow in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
  26. Let Christ dwell in your heart by faith (Eph. 3:17).
  27. Esteem Christ more highly than all earthly things; yes, even than your own life (Luke 14:26).
  28. Confess Christ freely before men (Luke 12:8).
  29. Beware lest the cares of life or the allurements of pleasure weaken Christ’s hold on your heart (Luke 21:34-36; Matt. 24:44).
  30. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39).
  31. Do not exercise lordship over anyone (Matt. 23:10-12).
  32. Do not seek your own welfare only, nor bear your own burdens merely, but have regard to those of others (Phil. 2:4; Gal. 6:2).
  33. Let your light shine before men; hold forth the word of life. Do good to all men as you have opportunity (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 6:10).
  34. Be blameless and harmless, as the sons of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15).
  35. Be gentle, meek, kind-hearted, compassionate, merciful, forgiving (2 Tim. 2:24; Tit. 2:2; Eph. 4:32).
  36. Be sober, grave, sincere, temperate (Phil. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:13; 5:8).
  37. Put away all lying; speak the truth (Eph. 4:25).
  38. Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men (Col. 3:23).
  39. Be watchful, vigilant, brave, joyful, and courteous (1 Cor. 16:13; Phil. 4:4; 1 Thes. 5:6-10).
  40. Be clothed with humility; be patient toward all (Col. 3:12; Rom. 12:12).
  41. Follow peace with all men (Heb. 12:14).
  42. Sympathize in the joys and sorrows of others (Rom. 12:15).
  43. Follow after whatever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8).
  44. Refrain utterly from adultery, fornication, uncleanness, drunkenness, covetousness, wrath, strife, sedition, hatred, emulation, boasting, envy, jesting, and foolish talking (Eph. 5:3,4).
  45. Whatever you do, consider the effect of your action on the honor of God’s name among men. Do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; 3:17).
  46. Reckon yourselves dead to all manner of sin. Henceforth live not to yourselves, but to him who died for you, and rose again (Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:15).
  47. Be zealous of good works, always abounding in the work of the Lord, not becoming weary in well-doing (Tit. 2:14; Gal. 6:9).
  48. Do not speak evil of any man (Tit. 3:2).
  49. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16).
  50. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt (Col. 3:8; 4:6).
  51. Obey rulers; submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake (Tit. 3:1).
  52. Be holy in all manner of life (1 Pet. 1:15,16).
  53. Do not give occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully (1 Tim. 5:14).
  54. Marry “only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).
There have been, in the past, divisions among Christadelphians over certain commandments of Christ. For the most part, these have not arisen because one ecclesia or group of ecclesias disavowed or renounced clear commandments, but because the two sides interpreted certain commandments in somewhat different ways.

Notorious in this respect have been the commandments concerning marriage, and the related matters of divorce and possible remarriage. It might be argued, since the commandments of Christ should constitute part of any Biblical statement of faith, that there must be perfect unanimity among ecclesias on the questions of:

...before there can be true Biblical fellowship.

However, there is a vast difference between denying one or more of the commandments of Christ, on the one hand, and, on the other, applying one or more of them in a slightly different way.

A clause in many ecclesial Constitutions, suggested by the original Christadelphian Ecclesial Guide, reads as follows:

“In matters not affecting essential doctrines, we mutually agree to submit to the arrangements preferred by the majority.”

We may make the mistake of supposing that “majority rule” is simply a convenient way of doing things, borrowed — with no particular Bible support — from the democratic governments of England and America. So we may assume that this rule is not especially binding, and in fact really means:

‘I agree to submit to the arrangements preferred by the majority, unless I believe them to be wrong.’

But it may be seen — upon some reflection — that the rule cannot be limited to such an interpretation: If everyone agreed to submit to the will of the majority only when he or she thought it to be right, then the clause would, in reality, mean...nothing! This would then be the perfect prescription for ecclesial disunity. Sadly, this has happened far too often among us. Brothers and sisters have stayed together in ecclesias, thinking themselves to be in perfect harmony, until the first real problem arose. Then they have divided from one another because one side or the other had supposedly “departed from the Truth”, even if only in a relatively minor matter.

No, the proper way to read the clause is surely:

‘In matters not affecting essential doctrines, we mutually agree to submit to the arrangements preferred by the majority, even when the majority is wrong.’

Even if our ecclesia makes what we consider to be a wrong decision, our duty is to remain peaceably with the ecclesia...unless that decision affects the ecclesia’s official position in relation to one or more essential doctrines of the Truth.

And if another ecclesia similarly makes what our ecclesia considers to be a “wrong” decision on the application of one of Christ’s commands in a specific case? What is the second ecclesia to do? Nothing! As Robert Roberts has written:

“There ought to be no interference of one ecclesia with another...An ecclesia has no right to judge except for itself. This is the independence not to be interfered with: but a similar right to judge must be conceded to all, and the exercise of it, if tempered with a respectful and proper procedure, would never offend an enlightened body anywhere...There may be cases [in judging individual cases] where a reasonable doubt exists, and where a second ecclesia will come to a different conclusion from the first. What is to be done then? Are the two ecclesias that are agreed in the basis of fellowship to fall out because they are of a different judgment on a question of fact? This would be a lamentable result — a mistaken course every way. They have each exercised their prerogative of independent judgment: let each abide by its own decision, without interfering with each other. The one can fellowship a certain brother, the other cannot...The course of wisdom in such a case is certainly to agree to differ.” 1

By itself, this approach (coupled with a true understanding of the difference between essential and non-essential teachings) would have prevented most Christadelphian divisions before they arose!

Would an ecclesial decision to allow one whom others might consider an erring brother to break bread with the ecclesia be a matter “affecting essential doctrines”? It might be thought, since there are commandments of Christ that deal with so many aspects of life, including the breaking of bread, etc., that — “Yes! This IS a matter of essential commandments, and they must be understood, and kept, correctly by the ecclesia as a whole. I cannot go along with what I know/believe to be wrong!”

But let us assume that there is no attempt by the ecclesia in question, or any of its members, to deny one of Christ’s commandments — but only a difference of opinion as to how to apply that commandment in a particular case. Is that sufficient reason to consider leaving the ecclesia? If it is, then, conceivably, every difference of opinion as to how to apply any commandment could be considered a matter of “essential doctrine”, and we would always be on the verge of disfellowshiping anyone and everyone at the slightest difference of opinion on almost anything!

This is not to say: ‘There is no right answer.’ It is to say: ‘Even if you or I have the perfect answer, you or I should not try to force it upon everyone else under threat of withdrawal if they disagree!’

To return to the “majority rule” principle: This is much more than a convenient way of doing things; it is really the restatement of a Bible principle, or commandment, itself — which is just as fundamental as any other commandment!:

“All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21).

These passages most directly “prove” that the rule is Scriptural. There are other passages which, almost as directly, say the same thing, and they are the passages which teach the unity of the Body of Christ (ASF 22). All the passages, in Paul’s letters and elsewhere, that command us to “be of the same mind” or “one mind” (i.e., Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Pet. 3:8,9) make the same point: that in matters of non-essential questions, we must eventually, for the sake of peace and unity, submit to the will of others (i.e., the will of the majority), even if (especially if!) we think they are wrong. Just as our obedience to certain commands (to love, to be kind, and to “turn the other cheek”) is only truly tested when we are wronged — so also our obedience to other commands (to unify the Body, to submit to one another, and to be of one mind) is only truly tested when we have a significant difference of opinion with our brethren.

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