The introduction of the UA08/NASU has revealed a changing attitude towards the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF). There are frequent cries that “the BASF is a man-made document”, or “all we need is the scriptures”, or it is “a century old statement of faith with offending Victorian wording”. Whilst individuals may be able to justify such comments in their own minds, they show a lack of appreciation for there being a statement of faith in the first place and the role it has played in the Christadelphian community.
The purpose for establishing a Statement of Faith was not to establish a Christadelphian Creed. The Word of God is our sole authority for Truth; fellowship is based upon the Apostle’s doctrine, communicated to us by men guided and influenced by God’s spirit. Yet, it must be recognized that it would be insufficient to accept individuals into fellowship simply because they accept the Bible as God’s word, for this would be true of many professing Christians throughout the world. The purpose of the Statement of Faith was and is to concisely present a summary of scriptural truths which embody Christadelphian beliefs, so as to identify a common understanding between Christadelphians and those seeking fellowship with them.
In 1955, The Christadelphian Magazine had this to say about a Statement of Faith: “What is the purpose of a Statement? It is to define the doctrines believed by a community…A Statement is necessary to set forth those first principles as commonly understood by the members of the community, in order that the conditions of association are well defined and that the testimony to those truths may be consistently exhibited to others”.10 (our emphasis).
It is significant that the Editor recognized the first principles set forth in any statement of faith should be “well defined.” This is one aspect of the NASU that is deficient.
Another quotation from The Christadelphian Magazine in 1998, helps to put the BASF in perspective where fellowship matters are concerned:
“A Basis of Fellowship”
But there is a further aspect to our Statement of Faith which is equally important. The Statement lists first principle teachings which we believe are essential for salvation, but it is also a basis of fellowship. This means that the test of whether fellowship exists between individual and individual, and between ecclesia and ecclesia, is dependent on the wholehearted acceptance of the first principles in the scriptures.
We need therefore to be certain of exactly what we mean when we speak about the Statement of Faith forming the basis of our fellowship. Sometimes, for example, it is said that an individual accepts the teachings of the BASF (the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, which is the test of inter-ecclesial fellowship in the Christadelphian Central fellowship). At its lowest level, this could mean that a person agrees that the doctrines listed in the Statement of Faith are scripturally sound. He may not agree that they are “first principle” teachings essential for salvation, and he may be happy to share fellowship with people who deny the truth of some of those teachings.
Our response is plain. This is not how we view the teachings forming the basis of our faith, and there are no grounds for fellowship between us and someone who holds that position. Alternatively, a person could take amore elevated view of the BASF. He or she could agree that it adequately summarizes the first principle teachings of the scriptures, believing also that these teachings are essential if we are to be in the way of salvation. But he may not see the need to restrict fellowship accordingly. Once again, this is not our position and, although it appears in this case that a person is much closer to us, we could not in fact extend fellowship on this basis, because that view of fellowship is radically different from ours.
But suppose for a moment that it was only one element of the Statement of Faith that caused a problem. Would we be justified in withholding fellowship because it proves impossible to agree that that one subject is actually a first principle doctrine? It will be apparent from what has already been discussed that the only way such a difficulty could be resolved would be by us not treating that element as a first principle. In other words, we should have to exclude it from our Statement of Faith and Basis of Fellowship. If we agree that the BASF is an accurate epitome of the first principle teachings of scripture, we are not being unreasonable when we require assent to all the doctrines—and agreement to fellowship consistently on that basis—before fellowship can be extended.”11(bold sections ours for emphasis).
It is difficult to positively identify when the first Birmingham Statement of Faith was established. Notwithstanding, very early in the history of the community, ecclesias in England acknowledged the Birmingham Statement of Faith as the defining document for community fellowship. The introduction of the amendment to the original statement of faith regarding resurrection and responsibility was seen as a necessary move in order to ensure a clear understanding on the subject of responsibility. By amending the Statement the brethren at that time recognized the importance of this belief as part of those doctrines which formed the basis of our understanding of the Truth. For this reason Brother Roberts wrote in the Christadelphian for 1898: “Seeing that this doctrine is contained in the Statement of Faith which forms the Basis of Fellowship, and that organized and active denial of it in London and elsewhere has taken place…RESOLVED: That we affirm Proposition 24 of the Statement of Faith in the following amplified terms, and that we fellowship those only who hold the same doctrine.”12
Furthermore in 1986, the Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Committee commented on this matter by stating: “The documentary evidence, however, makes it perfectly plain that the principle which the Amendment defines was clearly enunciated from the beginning: knowledge of the divine will, to a degree determined solely by God Himself, as is the identity of any such individual, renders a man the subject of a resurrectional judgment. This was always the True Principle in the application of which there might be Uncertain Details.”13
In 1992, the Editor went as far as to say: “The freedom of movement of brethren and sisters around the ecclesial world, for example, is predicated on the fact that all ecclesias recognize and uphold the common faith. In the Central fellowship, this requires that they acknowledge the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (in all its parts: the Truth to be Received, the Doctrines to be Rejected, and the Commandments of Christ) as a faithful embodiment of the Scriptural gospel.”14
A misconception amongst many some Christadelphians in North America is that the Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith (BUSF) preceded the BASF and was in fact the original statement of faith used by the Birmingham ecclesia of which Brother Roberts was a member. This is simply not the case; the original statement of faith was called the Birmingham Statement of Faith (BSF) which was amended in 1898 to become the BASF. The BUSF did not come into play until 1909 when the Advocate (Unamended)community in North America under the influence of Bro. Thomas Williams modified the BSF to help preserve its own understanding on certain issues. The name ‘Birmingham’ should have been dropped as the modification was not made by the Birmingham ecclesia, nevertheless the statement became known as the BUSF adding further confusion to the history of the matter.
From time to time it has been suggested that the Statement of Faith in its present form, whilst appropriate for the times in which it was written, should be rewritten as a more suitable document for our modern times. The difficulty with this thought is who would decide what should or should not be included? In addition, we can only conclude that those parts which would be removed must of necessity not be considered first principles of our faith and therefore not essential for fellowship. This would inevitably open the way for a broader fellowship which would incorporate a variety of views. If the BASF reflected the Truth believed in 1898, what has changed? Certainly not the doctrines it contains.
In response to those who have felt that the NASU has weaknesses in its wording, some have noted that all man-made documents are flawed, even the BASF. Whilst this may appear to be a reasonable observation, the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (modified in 1898) has stood the test of time and as Brother Harry Tennant wrote in regard to the Statement of Faith: “There is, however, no reason to believe that our basis is anything other than sound. It is consonant with Scripture and is consistent in its parts.”15
The Apostle Paul states that the Ecclesia is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). This is a grave responsibility. God’s Truth is supported by, and grounded upon, the Ecclesia, and our responsibility in these last days is to ensure that the Truth is upheld. The Truth is the gospel of salvation (Ephesians 1:13); the Truth is that which sanctifies or makes holy those that believe (John 17:17); yet Paul expressed his concerns because there were those who were prepared to “change the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:25).
For these reasons it is important to fully understand what is at stake before deciding to move forward on an altered basis for fellowship in North America.
The NASU subscribes to the use of two statements of faith. This is nothing new; in 1986 a group called The Christadelphians for Unity proposed a similar basis for reunion. At that time it was argued that the barriers to reunion were artificial and that both statements reflect the same truths. If this is true then there should be no difficulty for the UA08/NASU supporters to endorse the BASF as a true definition of both communities’ beliefs and to make it the touchstone for inter-ecclesial fellowship in North America.
A recurring argument for two statements of faith is that reunion in the 1950’s both in England and Australia was accomplished by using two statements. This is simply not true. In both cases the opening words are virtually identical: “We agree that the doctrines to be believed and taught by us, without reservation, are the First Principles of the One Faith as revealed in the Scriptures, of which the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (with positive and negative clauses, and the Commandments of Christ) gives a true definition.”
The Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith is identified as defining the first principles of the one faith. As earlier noted, in the 2001 version of the NASU document the BASF was proposed as the touchstone for inter-ecclesial fellowship, but for reasons not disclosed, the statement was deleted in2003. Its inclusion in the NASU document would have eliminated much of the aggravation now being experienced and some of the ambiguity found in the NASU document would have been removed by this simple statement. Unfortunately this is not the case and the ambiguity exists.
Other statements of faith are used by individual ecclesias (although not as many as has been implied), and this was recognized in previous reunion documents, as the following statement from the unity agreement in England demonstrates: “It is agreed, however, that ecclesias in both fellowships may continue to use such statements as are current among them, supplementing them where necessary with the Clauses herein set out”. However in matters of inter-ecclesial fellowship, only one statement of faith has been recognized – the BASF, reference to which was included as part of the Clauses mentioned in the reunion agreements.
During The Christadelphians for Unity initiative, concerns arose and a single paged document was produced by Detroit brethren identifying the “Minimum Requirements for Reunion with Unity”. It is not without significance that the first point discussed reads as follows: “A statement acknowledging the BASF as the worldwide basis of fellowship and that the unity agreement makes everyone members of the Central fellowship. This is the practical basis of unity. Everyone involved becomes members of the same Central fellowship worldwide.” Sound advice indeed, but which is not being heeded.
Resurrectional Responsibility has been part of Christadelphian teaching since our inception. As early as 1848 in the book Elpis Israel, Christadelphian teaching has maintained that men and women are responsible to a resurrection to judgment for rejecting the gospel of God. Five years before Brother Thomas died he wrote Anastasis, (1867) which clearly affirms that his views on this subject had not changed; he wrote: “He that understands the truth, but declines the obedience it commands, will be held accountable for its rejection; for ‘he that believeth not shall be condemned’ ‘in a day of judgment’, ‘when the Deity shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to the gospel Paul preached’ (Romans 2:16; Mark 16:16).”16 Whilst Clause 24 was not amended until 1898, nevertheless the principle defined by the amendment was understood in the original Birmingham Statement of Faith (BSF).17
The question has been raised as to the importance of Clause 24 and its validity as a first principle. The BASF has been described as “a flawed statement” because of Clause 24 and it is important that we spend some time considering this allegation. In a 2010 letter to a group of Amended Brothers and Sisters, a brother from Detroit made the following statement:
“As has been pointed out forcibly to me in personal conversation and public challenges, the amendment goes too far. We tend to read Clause 24 through Amended glasses. I suggest you read it through Unamended glasses. As Amended the clause says that the responsible – who are those who know the truth and have been called to obey it whether or not they are baptized – will appear at the judgment seat of Christ with the possibility of receiving “good” based on their “works.” In other words, the grammar of the Amended clause says that a good living unbaptized person may be saved. “Oh no” one would say, “no Central Christadelphian believes that!” But they do. We had a Central Christadelphian in our living room trying to convince us of this very point. He was part of a movement that we would eschew, but it is an existing group of folks in our Central community. The Unamended are correct, the added parenthetical expression has corrupted clause 24. By agreeing to UA08, we are actually being given a graceful way out of this flawed statement. Let’s take it!!”
What an astounding statement to suggest Clause 24 is corrupted by the amendment! In 1898 the amendment was formulated by the Birmingham Central Christadelphian Ecclesia and since that time has been defended by thousands of Christadelphians; yet not once has anyone asserted that the grammar was incorrect, until now. Why not? Because Clause 24 does not fit in with this brother’s views or the Unamended position on resurrectional responsibility. We quote Clause 24 in order to refresh our minds:
24. 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” (2Cor.5:10; 2 Tim.4:1; Rom.2:5,6,16, 14:10-12; 1 Cor.4:5; Rev.11:18).
The grammar is perfectly clear:
The responsible are those who know God’s will and are called upon to submit to it;
The responsible consist of those who are dead and living, obedient and disobedient.
This brother reworks the amendment by saying that both baptized and unbaptized will receive “good”, whereas in actual fact the wording says the “dead and living, obedient and disobedient” will be “judged according to their works”, which are further defined as good or bad works.
The amendment makes no reference to “good living unbaptized” individuals as this brother suggests; it speaks about the “works” of the responsible, whether they are good or bad.
Good works involve obedience in the waters of baptism (Mark 16:16); bad works involve a person’s refusal to submit to God’s gracious invitation, both of which are noted in clause 16 of the BASF.
When the reasoning is examined it is impossible to arrive at the same conclusions as this brother. The principle embodied in Clause 24 has been ably defended and there is no shortage of written material supporting the Central position on this subject, all of which produce adequate scriptural evidence that the amendment is not inferred from the Scriptures, but clearly taught.
The amendment in Clause 24 is not just about resurrectional responsibility; it was also designed to exclude several wrong teachings, advanced by JJ Andrew related to the nature of man, inherited alienation, and covenant relationship (critical doctrines in Unamended understanding of fundamental belief). By accepting Clause 24, concerns surrounding these wrong teachings would be eliminated.
It has been advanced that the early brethren, prior to the amendment being made, did not require withdrawal of fellowship from those who disagreed on the subject of “light” (i.e. the knowledge of the revealed will of God and His calling to submit to it) being a ground for responsibility. It must be recognized that during this early period of the Truth’s growth, many of the challenges encountered by the introduction of error brought about a refining process by means of additional statements and clarifications of wording. Many of the quotations used to support the suggestion of tolerance were related to uncertain details and not true principles, but the views presented by JJ Andrew highlighted the challenge being presented to the Truth in unmistakable terms. Bro. Roberts made this clear in the following statement: “The present difficulty has not been created by me, and if I am forced to appear to take a more definite attitude, it has not been my choice…If bro. Andrew’s tactics have forced a more definite attitude on me, it may be that in this I am coerced into a course of duty not before sufficiently recognized” (The Christadelphian, December 1896).
Whatever may be deduced from the early writings, it is abundantly clear that the doctrinal and fellowship position of the Amended community has consistently followed the position of the Birmingham Central Ecclesia when it first adopted the amendment in 1898. One thing is also certain; the Unamended community, according to its official publications, does not accept resurrectional responsibility as a first principle, nor does it consider it a test of fellowship: “We (the Unamended) view the teaching that it is light which brings resurrectional responsibility as compromising and weakening the correct understanding of Scripture on baptism and the everlasting covenant” (Responsibility booklet, page 53). The refusal of the Unamended UA08 ecclesias to accept the BASF as the touchstone, coupled with their refusal to separate from those who endorse this publication, is sufficient to show they do not consider resurrectional responsibility to be a first principle or a test of fellowship.
Another query that has been made by some Amended brethren is whether too much emphasis is being placed upon resurrectional responsibility when other first principles are also being challenged within the community. This is not an unreasonable query; it recognizes the fact that in these last days the truth is increasingly coming under fire and there is considerable pressure being brought to bear for radical change. This is indeed a sad reflection upon the Central community.
Two thoughts are advanced in response to this query. The first is this: in highlighting the fact that other problems exist, it is implied that just as we are tolerant on other first principle matters we should be tolerant on this issue also. But the truth of the matter is that the Central community is not altogether tolerant of differences of views related to first principles; in many instances the differences are not publicly known and when public challenges have been made there has been a swift response from one quarter or another. With regards to resurrectional responsibility the issue is quite different; it is one of the core issues that has separated the Amended and Unamended communities; the statement of faith was amended to clarify the Central position. By contrast, the UA08/NASU agreement does not require the Unamended to accept the amendment and instead was written to accommodate the Unamended point of view with regard to the teachings of Thomas Williams.
The second thought that needs emphasizing, and perhaps more emphatically than the first, is this: the BASF is described as a convenient summary of the doctrines and precepts taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles. Despite its human origins the BASF clearly defines what the Christadelphian Central community believes. Any toleration of error in one first principle opens the door for toleration of error in all first principles, without exception, and should that happen, the truth as we know it today would quickly decline. As the early first century ecclesia grew and the philosophies of men prevailed, slowly modifications were made until an apostate system replaced the true faith. We must not allow history to repeat itself.
17 The 1877 Birmingham Statement of Faith states, “RESURRECTION OF HEATHENS, IDIOTS, BABES, ETC. – that “heathens”, idiots, pagans, and very young children, will never see the light of resurrection, but pass away as though they had not been: the resurrection being restricted to those who are responsible to divine law (Acts 19:3-5; 8:12; Mark 16:16)”.