“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them… By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Rom 16:17-18 ESV
The Christian entertainment industry has become extremely influential and all pervading in recent years. The marketing is highly sophisticated and appealing, and particularly aimed at young people. This approach to worship is now becoming widely accepted. These large entertaining churches have had such a powerful influence that some Christadelphian events are now being modelled on this style of worship. The increased focus on an entertainment style of religion is now replacing the power of God’s Word as the motivator in people’s lives. Christian rock bands have created a new culture in themselves. As a result, it is becoming more common for Christadelphians to attend other churches for worship. This may involve playing in, or being entertained by bands at Christian “worship” festivals and conferences. Past experience reveals that this has been devastating on the faith of many.
Scripture is clear that fellowship with unbelievers is inconsistent with the hope of the gospel (Isa 8:20; 30:9-10; 2 Cor 6:14-18; Eph 4:14; 5:11-12; 1 John 1:1-7; 2 John 7; 2 Thess 3:6). The first century believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). Only with “one mind’ can we “strive together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). We also are warned in many New Testament passages of the deceptiveness of false Christianity and those who seek to draw others away. A falling away from the Truth in the first century was warned of passionately by the apostles and was a source of grief for them (Acts 20:29-32; 2 Thess 2:1-12: 2 Pet 2:3; Jude 3-4). The apostles wrote so we might understand and identify the dangers. We are also exhorted to respond for the saving of fellow believers and young people. Grave warnings are given by the apostles about those within our community who lead others astray. What more damaging way to do this than to invite, accompany and encourage believers to attend false places of worship?
The following article was written by the late Brother Harry Tennant in the Christadelphian Magazine in October 1984. It’s message is one which is still just as relevant today as when he wrote it.
A TIME TO BE HONEST
No one who moves around the ecclesial world, either in Britain or anywhere else, can have failed to observe or hear about a practice among a not insignificant number of brethren and sisters which creates a division of loyalty between our own community and other places of worship.
The division makes itself known amongst those who regularly attend both a Christadelphian meeting, usually the Breaking of Bread, and some other place of worship – Baptist or evangelical, for example — or some convention or campaign arranged by or supported by groups of churches. Ecclesias become aware that this kind of thing is happening and are perplexed as to what, if anything, they can do. Those who engage in activities of this kind may consider that they are exercising a freedom to which they have a natural right, and do so because they believe it is to their spiritual well being. Perhaps they are convinced that the Christadelphian community is not providing the type of worship or the spiritual stimulus which they believe to be useful, and that the only way to make up the lack is to find it elsewhere.
Facing the Issues
The purpose of this article is to ask all concerned, ecclesias and individuals alike, to face up to the issues involved. A “witchhunt” is not being advocated. The approach now being suggested is at an entirely different level. It is self examination which is required, not simply the pointing of accusing fingers in the direction of other brethren and sisters. If we fail to meet this challenge, we shall suffer considerable spiritual damage and, perhaps, disaster.
The issues are central and not marginal. They lie at the very heart of everything which all of us confess to hold dear. They concern the Lord our God, His Son the Lord Jesus Christ and the atonement by which we are cleansed from our sins.
It is doubtful whether there is a single case in which a brother or sister has begun to attend regularly another place of worship in addition to worship within the ecclesias where changes in attitude in respect of doctrine and fellowship have not taken place.
Sooner or later these changes in attitude become changes in conviction about the rightness of or the necessity for the doctrines which Christadelphians hold. These doctrines are the very foundation stones upon which our community exists. Experience has shown that the following “new” doctrines are accepted, tolerated or suggested in whole or in part (and there are others, too):
1 . The eternal Sonship of Christ, whether or not this is stated in a trinitarian form;
2. The personality of the Holy Spirit as distinct from the person of the Lord God and of His Son;
3. The substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ;
4. A “power of darkness”, usually bordering on if not entirely accepting the orthodox doctrine of Satan and the Devil; In some cases, there is a belief in demons as the personal agents of a personal Satan;
5. Conscious survival of death. This is often stated in very vague terms.
All of us will admit that these are fundamental and serious matters. It is not possible to be a Christadelphian and hold these beliefs. It is not possible to be a Christadelphian and to doubt the corresponding Christadelphian doctrines to those listed above.
Furthermore, it is not possible to be a true evangelical and not believe in (at least) doctrines 1 and 3 above.
It is not that other communities are prepared to tolerate Christadelphians in their midst if the Christadelphian insists on stating repeatedly what Christadelphians believe about Christ. Dr. Billy Graham writes: “. . . those who desert the truth of Christ for some ‘disloyal deviationist’ speculation — whether Gnostic, Mormon, ‘Witnesses’, Christadelphian, ‘Christian Scientist’, Spiritualist or another …”
Christadelphian teaching about God and the Lord Jesus Christ is not acceptable to evangelicals and the like; indeed, some of them openly declare that Christadelphianism is the work of demons.
The point of this article is not to argue the truth of Christadelphian doctrines — that is done thoroughly elsewhere; in any case we all profess to accept and to believe them — but rather to show the ultimate impossibility of trying to have a foot in both camps. It cannot be done without serious distortion of one’s own Christadelphian faith and, correspondingly, without being out of step with one’s brethren and sisters.
It is this inevitable conflict of faith and of fellowship which all of us have to face up to. It is not a question of “doing nothing” since those who are regularly visiting other places are, in fact, “doing something”.
Ecclesias should be aware that it is a neglect of pastoral responsibility to the persons concerned and to the rest of us simply to allow the situation to ride. There is no doubt that doing nothing is itself a form of compromise and, in the experience of other ecclesias, sows seeds for greater troubles to come. The sooner those who are affected are engaged in quiet, sympathetic and unhurried discussions, whilst firmly maintaining the truth we believe, the better it will be for all concerned. Failure to do so means that in the long run the ecclesia is willing to compromise the faith to which all of us have given allegiance in Christ. Down that road lies disaster to someone’s faith.
A Natural Reluctance
There is a natural reluctance to take the initiative in such matters. All of us are in need of help before God and we are not anxious to call in question the faith of others. It must be remembered, however, that the first initiative comes from those who decide to worship elsewhere whilst continuing to attend our meetings. If it be pleaded that those who do these things are “harmless” to the rest of us, it must be stated that this cannot be the case. The minimum harm is that support has been withdrawn from some of our meetings. But experience indicates that the prayers, talks, manner of presiding and almost everything else is sooner or later affected by the “other” worship. Reason dictates that this must be so.
Either we believe that the faith we confessed at baptism and have sought to live out in our lives is true to Scripture and to God, or we do not. For those of us who do so believe, and all of us should in honesty do so, surrender or compromise will be disastrous to our faith. The meaning would have gone out of life. What kind of guidance would we be giving to our children and young people? Moreover, what kind of guidance is being given within the ecclesia by those who also seek regularly to worship elsewhere?
These are plain questions and they must be answered from hearts and consciences before God in the light of Scripture.
We plead with those who are at present walking the double path to face up honestly to what they are doing. This is a plea for openness before God and it is not castigation or heartlessness. Worship in other places always involves some kind of fellowship, and fellowship, whether we intend it or not, always involves basic doctrines. It is this issue which has to be examined and it is this challenge which has to be met.
A Straightforward Answer Needed
We would ask those who are so engaged to answer in their hearts before God the following simple question:
Am I honestly being a Christadelphian in the things I wholeheartedly believe and in the fellowship I am practicing?
It is our conviction that if we say yes to that question we will cease to attend elsewhere. If we cannot answer yes it is time to talk honestly to someone in the ecclesia, preferably to one of the arranging brethren, in order to resolve the matter; it is to be hoped, to come back to a firm hold of the faith we once confessed.
If ecclesias know that they are affected with this problem and have hitherto done nothing about it, may we plead that they make known exactly where the ecclesia stands in respect of our basic doctrines and why, and urge those who may have been allowed to worship elsewhere without comment to declare their own affirmation of our basis of belief and our life and our practice of fellowship.
It is a fact to be reckoned with that ecclesias which have failed to rise to their responsibility before Christ have suffered considerably in their spiritual lives and in some cases have finally been rent asunder or almost completely ceased to exist. On the other hand, those who have seen it right to reaffirm their conviction in the rightness and practice of our faith have grown stronger as a result. The evidence is available in the ecclesial world around us without any need for inquisitorial investigation. The truth we hold is glorious and saving: it works wondrous changes in our lives and is profitable both now and for ever.
It is sometimes pleaded in mitigation by those who worship elsewhere that their ecclesia is “stale”, “uninteresting”, and “unhelpful”. There may or may not be truth in such statements. Arranging brethren should look to the life in Christ of the whole ecclesia and see what can be done to effect improvement. Are the basic doctrines being taught in Sunday School? Are we sure about that? Is the Youth Group imaginatively run, with good activities and a proper spiritual content? Is the Bible Class program helpful and designed to support the faith and life we live? Are our Sunday speakers serving us well? Are we ensuring that sound and strengthening exhortation is being given? Are the evening and other occasions of witness strong and appealing in their message?
There are many sources of help in our spiritual life and these have always come down to three or four simple things:
• Constant and prayerful reading of the Scriptures;
• Constant and constructive attendance at all our meetings;
• Constant and earnest prayer in Christ to our heavenly Father.
If these things are practiced in our homes and in our ecclesias there will be a living fire ever burning on the ecclesial hearth, and far less temptation for some to seek to warm themselves elsewhere.