2.1 – NASU, the core document
The UA08 ecclesias have indicated that the NASU document is the core doctrinal position of the UA08.6 The opening statement of the agreement reads as follows:
“It is understood and agreed that the doctrines to be believed and taught by us are the first principles of the One Faith as revealed in the Scriptures. The two principal statements of faith, The Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF) and the Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith (BUSF) as set out herein (including the Doctrines to be Rejected and the Commandments of Christ) understood as expressed in this document (NASU) represent a true and common definition of the One Faith.”
Point No.4 of the agreement continues by stating:
The _______Ecclesia meets on the basis of the Scriptural Principles of the One Faith as summarised in the BUSF or BASF, understood as expressed in the NASU* and in accordance with the Unity Agreement (2008).
We welcome in fellowship Brothers and Sisters from Ecclesias that accept this basis.
* North American Statement of Understanding – October, 2003
These statements confirm the NASU as the core document and it is important to recognize that the understanding of both statements of faith is governed by the NASU document – “understood as expressed in the NASU”. The implications behind this statement are staggering; the BASF has clearly defined the Amended Central understanding of the gospel for over one hundred years, and yet now we are being advised that the BASF requires explaining via the NASU. What is even more staggering is that the UA08, far from containing a “statement of understanding” that clarifies our beliefs, only adds confusion to our basis of fellowship, as we shall see.
2.2 – Genuine concerns expressed for the NASU document
The UA08 ecclesias claim their fellowship practice is more in line with the rest of the Central Christadelphian community worldwide.7 This reflects a measure of ignorance regarding Central practice and a willingness to ignore the unifying basis upon which other reunions have been successful. In addition, their claim ignores the fact that the four Toronto ecclesias saw a need to pause their participation in the agreement in March 2009, recognizing the fellowship practice being used by the UA08 Unamended – which remains unchanged to this day – was not consistent with the fellowship practice of the Central community, nor with the fellowship expectations of the UA08 as understood by the four ecclesias. How can UA08 ecclesias assert their fellowship practice is more in line with the worldwide Central community, when the four Amended ecclesias paused because it wasn’t?
It will be helpful to consider briefly the development of the UA08/NASU fellowship practice before examining specific details. In May 2007 a tentative agreement (called the Proposed Unity Agreement – PUA) was formed between a few Unamended and Amended ecclesias; by March 2008 the agreement collapsed due to a lack of agreement on fellowship practice. However, the agreement was used as a basis for further discussions between the four Toronto ecclesias and the three Unamended ecclesias, with some modifications. Following the implementation of the UA08/NASU, an explanation of the agreement was provided to representatives from Ontario and Midwest ecclesias at a meeting in Brantford on September 27th, 2008.
One of the major concerns expressed by many representatives present was the lack of written agreement on the fellowship practice; in other words, the issue that had caused the PUA discussions to break down, had still not been addressed. As documented in the minutes generated for the meeting, some of the concerns were:
“What about Unamended (signatory) ecclesias? (We) need a clear statement regarding (these) ecclesias. Will they continue to fellowship other Unamended that are not signatory?”
“Asked GTA ecclesias to produce written documentation to prove that Unamended (signatory) have changed their position on fellowshipping other (non-signatory) Unamended ecclesias.”
“Why was NASU or Unity Agreement 2008 not clearer on lines of fellowship?”
“How does the Unity Agreement 2008 clarify that there will not be cross-over fellowship?”
In response to these concerns the following comments were documented:
“Regarding fellowship practice – (we) have second-hand information that GTA has been assured Unamended will ‘do the best they can to enforce the agreement’. How can they do better than that?”
“Mutual trust and patience is our mode of operation”
“Why would we mistrust Unamended, with NASU as touchstone and other provisions in place?”
This selection of comments illustrates the mixed concerns and the vague assurances that were voiced, due to a lack of clear language in the document and that the fellowship practice was based upon mutual trust. However, in March of 2009 the four Amended Toronto ecclesias issued a letter stating their intention to pause fellowship under the UA08 because a difference of understanding had become apparent regarding fellowship practice.
A fellowship study was proposed but never undertaken8 and in January 2010, representatives for the three Unamended ecclesias addressed a unity meeting of the Ontario Amended ecclesias explaining their understanding of the UA08/NASU document. The Unamended representatives acknowledged that at no time had they indicated they would withhold fellowship from other Unamended ecclesias that were prepared to fellowship them. In fact they made it abundantly clear that when it comes to fellowship practice, “The lines are simply drawn in a different place – a place that accepts Amended Brethren as well as Unamended”.9
If the fellowship terms were not acceptable (and continue to not be acceptable) for three of the original Amended ecclesias once the Unamended position became common knowledge, why would the present Amended UA08 ecclesias believe that they are more in line with the Central community now; what has changed? It is evident that whilst the agreement hasn’t changed, the mindset of the UA08 Amended ecclesias has, along with their willingness to condone fellowship outside our community, despite the numerous concerns voiced at the 2008 Brantford meeting.
2.3 – A proposal to restore unity
It is important to appreciate the real context in which those ecclesias expressing concerns with the UA08/NASU have been working over the past three years, and the initial support that was given to their proposal.
In November 2008, five ecclesias (Brantford, Hamilton Book Road, Hamilton MacNab, London, Royal Oak) began working together on a “Proposal to Restore Unity” (PRU). The intent of the proposal was not to overturn the work that had been previously accomplished in the UA08 agreement, but rather build upon that work, making it acceptable to all Amended ecclesias. A letter was sent to the originators of the agreement (the four Toronto ecclesias) to discuss the proposal; it noted, “We would like to share with you a framework proposal for unity that builds upon the work of the UA08 and other efforts that have taken place in the brotherhood in the past”.
On November 21, 2009, a unity meeting of the Ontario Amended ecclesias was held, at which time the five ecclesias submitted the proposed wording they wished to be added to the existing agreement, referring to it as the UA10. There were no serious objections. The minutes of this meeting reflect the views of the ecclesial representatives present: “All ecclesial representatives were given an opportunity to express their concerns and position regarding these clarifications, and most supported them. Those that abstained from supporting them made it clear that while they didn’t feel they were needed, they didn’t have any issues with how they were worded; however they would not support any changes until they were able to determine whether the Unamended would agree to them. If the Unamended would support them, then they would…It was felt by all that the wording provided a very positive step towards re-establishing unity among the Amended ecclesias in this area.”
From the above record it is apparent that the ten UA08 Amended ecclesias had a strong leaning towards the Unamended participating in the Unity Agreement. It was requested by the Ontario ecclesias that the five ecclesias obtain the support of their respective membership before submitting the proposed document for approval. This was obtained in principle, but at a subsequent meeting of all ecclesias on January 23, 2010 representatives from the three Unamended ecclesias presented papers which rejected the proposal to restore unity, a decision that was then supported by the ten Amended ecclesias signatory to the UA08. The proposal to restore unity was officially rejected and this effort terminated.
1 Quoted from the presentation by UA08 Signatory representatives to representatives from the 5 ecclesias at March 8, 2011 meeting.
8 The UA08 ecclesias placed a restriction on limiting participation to only those ecclesias which supported the UA08.