4.1 HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT.
The Christadelphian cult is active in Australia today and many Australians are deceived by its teachings. It was founded by Dr. John Thomas, who was born in England in 1805.2 He was the son of a Congregational minister, so like many other cult leaders he came from a Church background. As a young man he studied medicine at St. Thomas' Hospital in London. Upon his graduation he emigrated to America. During his voyage to America, the ship on which he sailed was wrecked. He made a vow to God that if he ever came out of the disaster alive, he would devote his life to religion. He was eventually rescued, and when he reached America he gave up his medical career and became involved with a religious group known as the 'Campbellites', (known in Australia today as "The Churches of Christ.") However, he did not remain with the Campbellites for very long. He left them in the year 1838 and started his own movement, which he called 'Christadelphianism'. His ideas are set forth in the book which he wrote, entitled, Elpis Israel.3
John Thomas returned to England three times, and during these visits he established a number of Christadelphian centres in England, the main one was located in Birmingham. By 1865 Dr. Thomas had about a thousand members throughout the world.4 The Christadelphian cult flourished in Britain more so even than in America. One of Dr. John Thomas' earliest converts in England was a man by the name of Robert Roberts. When John Thomas died in 1871, Roberts assumed the position of leadership in the cult. He wrote the book - Christendom Astray, which has become an important textbook for the cult.5 He also founded the magazine - The Christadelphian, through which the teachings of this cult have ever since been disseminated.6
4.2 CHRISTADELPHIANS AND THE BIBLE.
Christadelphians claim to be faithful to the Bible and to accept its teaching in its entirety. However, an examination of their teachings reveal that this is untrue for they deny and contradict the clear teachings of the Bible. While they may sincerely believe they have the truth, they believe a lie, for they deny some of the most fundamental doctrines of the Bible. Their defective view of the Bible is clearly shown in their denial of the existence of a personal devil. They regard the devil as simply the personification of evil. Robert Roberts said with regards to the existence of the devil:
"The popular doctrine of a personal devil has no foundation in truth, but is the hideous conception of the heathen mind, inherited by the moderns from the mythologies of the ancients and incorporated with Christianity by those men with corrupt minds who Paul predicted would pervert the truth."7
One of the most serious aspect of this denial is that it completely undermines the reliability of Scripture. How are we, for example, to understand the temptations of Jesus? Are we to think that the writers of the Gospels were wrong when they indicate that Satan actually spoke to Jesus and tempted Him? The Christadelphian's rejection of the existence of Satan demonstrates their contempt for the Scriptures. For the Bible clearly reveals that the devil is an evil spirit who literally exists. The book of Job speaks of Satan in terms of a real spirit who spoke with God, and accused Job of only loving God for what he could get from Him. Who can read the book of Job and not conclude that there is a personal devil? According to the Bible, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, during which time Satan actually spoke to Him and tempted Him to do evil. The Bible records that Jesus conducted a conversation with Satan. It is obvious that the Christadelphians do not take the teachings of Scripture seriously, but distort them to fit with their own theories. The Bible leaves us with no question at all regarding the reality of the literal existence of a spirit being called Satan. By their denial of the personality of Satan, the Christadelphians demonstrate how little regard they really have for the integrity of God's word.
4.3 CHRISTADELPHIAN'S VIEW OF THEIR OWN ORGANISATION
Christadelphians regard their own organisation as the unique organisation of God in this world. In their understanding only Christadelphians will be saved. Unlike Jehovah's Witnesses, the Christadelphians do not have any central organisation. Each local congregation, or "ecclesia" as it is known, is run by its own male members and is autonomous.8
4.4 CHRISTADELPHIAN'S BELIEF ABOUT GOD.
As pointed out earlier one of the characteristic feature of the cults is their defective view of God. Among the most fundamental problems of the Christadelphians is their rejection of the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinitarian nature of God. They, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, are Unitarian in belief and resurrect the ancient heresy of Arianism.
Christadelphians reject the doctrine of the Trinity.
According to the Christadelphians, God is only one person and one being. In their understanding only one person can be described as divine. Robert Roberts said:
"The endeavour is to show that they are not three co-equal powers in one, but powers of which one is the head and source of the others. The Father is eternal and underived, the Son is the manifestation of the Father in a man begotten by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit is the localisation of the Father's power."9
As the above quote indicates, Christadelphians are Unitarian in their belief. They do not accept that Jesus Christ is equal and co-eternal with the Father. Nor do they accept the personality of the Holy Spirit, but regard Him as a mere force - "a localisation of the Father's power." They also misrepresent orthodox Christianity on the subject of the Trinity, suggesting that the Church teaches three deities, which is untrue. The orthodox teaching of the Church is that there is One God, who is comprised of three distinct persons.
Christadelphians reject the deity of Christ.
Christadelphians are also seriously defective in their understanding of Jesus Christ. They deny that Jesus existed in any form before He was born to the virgin Mary. According to their teaching, He is not God, nor did He have any existence prior to His supernatural birth. They completely dismiss the many clear references in the Scriptures regarding Jesus Christ's pre-existence, (e.g. John 8:58; John 17:5). Robert Roberts said that Jesus was simply a "manifestation of the Father in human form."10 According to their teaching, Jesus did not become the Christ until His baptism. They believe that Jesus, up until his baptism, was simply the body that God had prepared for the Christ to indwell.11 They believe that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan, and took possession of Him. This was the anointing which constituted him as the Christ, and which gave Him the superhuman powers which He exhibited during His ministry.12 The teaching that Jesus became the Christ at His baptism is not new, it was a heresy that arose in the early church. It is contrary to Scripture, since Jesus' baptism is not presented in Scripture as the place wherein He was constituted the Christ, but was simply to "fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). A Christadelphian tract entitled, One Bible - many churches - does it matter? says:
"The Christadelphian accepts fully the Bible story of the virgin birth, and honours Jesus as Son of God, but not as God the Son."
According to the Christadelphians Jesus is not God the Son. While they do believe that we may honour and adore Him, they do not believe that we can worship Him as God, but rather we honour Him because of the power which God gave to Him, and because He is exalted above all.
Christadelphians deny the Personality of the Holy Spirit.
Christadelphians deny the personality of the Holy Spirit, regarding Him as a force but not as a personal being. They describe the Holy Spirit as follows:
"...radiant invisible power from the Father. It is an unseen power emanating from the deity, filling space, and by which God is everywhere present. It is the medium by which God creates all things ... in the power by which He holds the whole universe"13.
In this quote you will notice that the Holy Spirit is referred to as it, not as Him. They do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a personal being. Whereas, the Scriptures do present the Holy Spirit as a personal Being. It is difficult to understand how anyone can read John, chapter 16, and still deny the personality of the Holy Spirit.
Christadelphians also deny that the Holy Spirit is active today. According to Robert Roberts, the apostles were the recipients of the operation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and it is given to none in the present day. He said, "The power of continuing the manifestation doubtless died with the apostles."14 A magazine published by the Christadelphians in 1874 called The Christadelphian said with respect to the Holy Spirit:
"We have no power to appoint rulers such as they had in the first century, for the Holy Spirit is not officially working with us as then."15
According to this quote, Christadelphians believe that the Holy Spirit is only given at certain times for special purposes. In their understanding, the Holy Spirit was active in the early days of the Christian Church, but has played no part in the Church since that time. Yet the New Testament makes it quite clear that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church permanently, not just for the lifetime of the apostles. No one can be converted or grow in the Christian life apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. So their teaching regarding the Holy Spirit is completely contrary to the Scriptures.
4.5 CHRISTADELPHIAN'S DEFECTIVE VIEW OF THE ATONEMENT.
Christadelphians deny the orthodox teaching of the atonement. They regard the death of Jesus on the cross as a representation of how mankind deserved to be treated. They do not regard Jesus as dying in our place. According to their teaching, our sin was not laid on Jesus, sin already existed in Him because of His human birth and His death was not an atonement for our sins. Their denial of the atonement is also confirmed by W.C. Irvine, a prominent Christadelphian, he wrote,
"The death of Christ was not to express the wrath of offended Deity, but to express the love of the Father in a necessary sacrifice of sin, that the law of sin and death which came into force by the first Adam might be nullified in the second in a full discharge of its claims through a temporary surrender to its power; after which immortality by resurrection might be acquired, in harmony with the law of obedience. This sin is taken away, and righteousness established."16
The Bible teaches that God actually punished His own Son in our place. Jesus acted as our substitute, dying for our sins. As Isaiah says: "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) And the apostle Peter says, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:18)
4.6 CHRISTADELPHIAN'S DEFECTIVE DOCTRINE OF SALVATION
A common feature of these cults is their defective and unbiblical view of salvation. Christadelphians prove themselves to be a cult by their teaching that salvation is based upon human works, rather than upon the finished work of Christ. According to the them, man is saved by his own merit. They have no time for the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is readily seen in a comment made by the founder Dr. John Thomas:
"Immortality is conditional upon keeping certain commandments, being immersed, believing on the Son of Man."17
You will note that according to Dr. Thomas, immortality is conditioned by:
1. Obeying the commandments of Christ.
2. Being baptised by total immersion.
3. Believing on the Son of Man.
Dr. Thomas clearly presented salvation as dependent on man's effort to obey the commandments of Christ. The Christadelphians do not believe that eternal life is a free gift, rather they regard salvation as a reward for being immersed and for keeping certain commandments. The Christadelphian doctrine of salvation is the complete opposite of the biblical doctrine of salvation. The Bible teaches a doctrine of salvation by grace, not by works. It teaches that faith is a gift which God gives to the elect (Eph. 2:8,9). Christadelphianism is a religion which presents man as capable of saving himself. No one was ever saved by their good works, otherwise Jesus died needlessly. Good works are the result of salvation not the cause of salvation (Eph. 2:10). Salvation cannot be earned, it is God's free gift, entirely undeserved on our part.
4.7 CHRISTADELPHIAN'S DEFECTIVE ESCHATOLOGY.
Another common feature of many of these cults is a defective view of the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. Christadelphians have a particularly interest in future events. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses they major on prophecy. Much of their advertising deals with this subject. Despite Jesus' declaration in Matthew 24:36, that no one knows the day and hour of Christ's return except the Father, they persist in trying to work out dates for the Second Coming of Christ. They have repeatedly predicted the outbreak of Armageddon. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses, they have often come unstuck with their prophesies, and so have been forced to revise their theories at a later date. In 1866 the Christadelphians published a pamphlet entitled, Ambassador of the Coming Age, which said:
"It is pretty certain that Jesus will return within the lifetime of the present generation."18
Jesus did not come as they had predicted. They failed to understand what Jesus said to His disciples: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority." (Acts 1:7)
Christadelphians have a mistaken view of the kingdom of Christ. They see it, not so much as having already come and being manifested in the rule of God in men's hearts, but rather as a visible kingdom that will take place after Christ's second coming. In their understanding Christ' is not now King and will not be until after His Second Coming. In their teaching only Christadelphians will have reached the required standard to enter His kingdom when it comes. Only they will be resurrected and will gain immortality. Christadelphians anticipate the day when they will rule with Christ in His kingdom. They maintain that His Kingdom will be worldwide, with its administration centred in Palestine. They believe that only Christadelphians and Jews have any hope of the resurrection.
This view of the kingdom is entirely contrary to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. For the Bible teaches that Christ's kingdom came in power on the day of Pentecost (Matt. 16:28). A cursory reading of the New Testament clearly reveals that Christ's kingdom has already come.
As we continue our study of these cults you will realise that they have many features in common. Christadelphians, as we have seen, depart from orthodox Christian teaching in numerous ways. They deny the Trinity, they deny the deity of Christ and the personality of the Holy Spirit. They have a seriously deficient view of the atonement and also believe in a salvation by human merit. You will discover that these are common doctrinal aberrations among the cults.
2Leta Hutchins Christadelphians p.1
4Maurice C Burrell and J Stafford Wright Some Modern Faiths Intervarsity Press, 1974, p.59
5John Thomas Christendom Astray p.2
6Maurice C Burrell and J Safford Wright op cit p.59
7John Thomas op cit p.123.
8Leta Hutchins op cit p.2
9John Thomas op cit p.106
10ibid p. 107
13Lita Hutchins op cit p.4
14John Thomas op cit p.103
15Lita Hutchinson op cit p.7
16W.C Irvine Heresies Exposed p.62.
17John Thomas The Revealed Mystery p.17
18 Lita Hutchinson op cit. p.11
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon