A great deal of discussion over the past three years has illustrated the inconsistency of the UA08/NASU and yet the UA08 ecclesias insist that the NASU document in its present form is a sound basis for unity. This view is not shared by all; any document that is ambiguous is unsound and incapable of providing a unifying basis of fellowship.
The very statement (noted at beginning of Section 2.1) that the NASU is the “core doctrinal position of the UA08” reveals a sympathy for the Unamended view of the document which states that while the agreement is in two parts – the NASU and all other – it is only the NASU portion that has permanence. The Unamended have stated the two Final Clarifications are redundant because they are covered in NASU.18 What this demonstrates is that the UA08/NASU document cannot be considered a unifying document because it does not require the parties involved to accept it on the same terms. Both groups can say they accept the UA08/NASU agreement, but in actual fact the agreement is read differently by both. This cannot be considered “speaking with one mind and one judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).
The introductory letter to the UA08 agreement states, “Included then with this agreement of acceptance of the principles of the NASU, is an agreement that defines our practical outworking of fellowship around the table of the Lord”. As noted earlier, included in the UA08 were two clarifications under the heading “Final Clarifications”: “two clarifications we feel need to be specifically included in order to ensure the greatest success in our unity together”. These “Final Clarifications” are described as “further clarifications of our understanding of doctrinal principles”.
Sadly, these clarifications are understood entirely differently by the Unamended ecclesias. Commenting at a unity meeting of the Amended Ontario ecclesias, it was stated by the Unamended representatives: “the extra clarifications in the UA08, along with other practical details…are not ‘scriptural principles’ per se, and are not part of the doctrinal basis of the UA08”. Thus one party considers the clarifications necessary, the other doesn’t; one views them as doctrinal principles, the other doesn’t. In addition, in recalling meetings with the four Amended Toronto ecclesias, the Unamended representatives stated, “It appears that the Toronto ecclesias understood the entire statement as the doctrinal basis for the agreement – i.e. – only those Unamended ecclesias who formally endorsed the entire UA08, would be included in fellowship”20. Again, the question must be raised, “how can a document understood differently by both parties hope to produce unity?”
Some Amended brethren in Ontario understand the UA08 agreement and specifically the NASU document to be an equivalency document;21 that is, a document that equalizes the two statements of faith (the BASF and the BUSF). A similar document was proposed in 1987 on the west coast of North America between the Amended and Unamended groups, but this was dropped in favour of accepting the BASF as a unifying document. In claiming that the NASU is an equivalency document, it is asserted that both statements of faith teach the same doctrine when understood by the elaboration provided by the equivalency document (the NASU). The outcome is supposedly one in which both groups agree upon a common understanding of the one faith.
Unfortunately, this understanding is not shared by all the Unamended signatories to the agreement. In 2005, after the NASU document had already been circulated for voting by both continental communities, correspondence passed between two steering committee members (one Amended, the other Unamended) in which it was stated categorically by the Unamended committee member “It has not been our intent to make the two statements equivalent. We have repeatedly stated publicly that our intent is to express what common understanding we can agree upon…”22. In making this statement the Unamended correspondent is careful to point out that the doctrinal content of the BUSF is different from the BASF. This helps explain why the Unamended are no longer willing to recognize the BASF as the touchstone.
As a core document, the NASU only adds confusion to what had been for the Amended community a perfectly simple understanding of the doctrines we believe.
In order to identify the ambiguity found in the NASU, permitting the errors of Thomas Williams to be taught alongside the Truth, a further four examples are offered in Sections 4.1 through 4.4:
|Before proceeding with Sections 4.1 – 4.4 it will be helpful to recall the fundamental errors of JJ Andrew and Thomas Williams. The Bible teaches that at birth we inherit mortality and a proneness to sin. In addition to these, the two brethren taught we also inherit a legal condemnation (ILC), also known as inherited alienation (from God); which, unless removed, keeps a person in the grave eternally. Consequently, they interpreted Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:22 “as in Adam all die” to mean those with ILC; and those “in Christ” to have had the ILC removed at baptism, by entering a covenant relationship. The outcome of their teaching is that only those who are baptized (thus removing the ILC) will, with certainty, be raised from the grave for judgment. The unbaptized, still in Adam, and still possessing ILC, being outside of a covenant relationship, remain in the grave. They rejected the Amended teaching that it is God’s calling and knowledge of His will that makes a person responsible to a future judgment, though Thomas Williams acknowledged it was within God’s prerogative to raise the unbaptized if His justice so demands. He also taught it was wrong to make this matter a first principle or a test of fellowship, and that all views should be welcomed into fellowship.Why does all this matter? Because instead of teaching that the unbaptized – who know God’s will – are accountable to a future judgment, and the sobering impact this is designed to have upon them, it teaches instead that their future accountability is not defined in scripture, thus denying a life saving principle (1 Tim. 4:16) and making it of none effect (Mark 7:13).
T. Williams’ writings can be found in The World’s Redemption (ch. 19) – reviewed in The Christadelphian, 1952, pg.46, and in Adamic Condemnation.
On the topic of Adamic Condemnation (NASU, pg 3) under the subheading Guilt for Personal Transgression we read: “Men are in no way responsible for Adam’s sin nor do they have any personal guilt on account of the nature which they bear as members of Adam’s race”. It is believed by those who framed the NASU document that this statement adequately dismisses any suggestion of inherited alienation or legal condemnation as taught by JJ Andrew.
While the above statement is correct in itself and is supported by the Advocate Magazine Publishing Committee, it does not eliminate the Unamended position that we inherit a legal condemnation at birth; it simply eliminates any guilt associated with the condemnation. This becomes evident when we read the Unamended comments in their magazine: “The condemnation pronounced in Eden left the race in a state of alienation from Divine favor, consisting of a legal defilement (Ephesians 2:11-12), as well as a physical and moral defilement (i.e. proneness to sin)…Although Adam’s posterity come under the condemnation to death and are thereby born in sin and alienated by nature from God, they are not guilty of Adam’s sin. Nevertheless, both sin nature as well as personal sin require atonement, defined in scripture as justification to life, offered freely to all who believe and obey.” (The Christadelphian Advocate, March 2006).
The official Unamended position is clear – though rejecting any personal guilt for Adam’s sin, they acknowledge a federal or racial relationship with Adam described as legal defilement or legal condemnation. The Amended community rejects this.
Members of the Unamended community could readily accept the wording of the NASU, and at the same time retain the belief in inherited alienation. While it is recognized not all Unamended believe this particular doctrine, a reunion document that accommodates it is not acceptable.
Sometimes the absence of words can be more serious than what is actually written; this is the case with the section “In Adam/In Christ” on page 5 of the NASU document. Many Amended brothers and sisters may not be aware of the significant differences involved in this particular subject between our two communities, yet the writings within the Unamended community demonstrate that many view being in Adam and being in Christ quite differently; moreover, the Unamended understanding of these terms is closely linked to their doctrine of inherited alienation.
We may briefly summarize the Unamended view as follows. JJ Andrew taught that those described by Paul as “in Adam” referred to the unbaptized, and that at baptism “when they entered into Christ they passed out of Adam; that is they cease to be ‘sinners’ in Adam, and are ‘made righteous’ in Christ”23. This view is further promoted in the Advocate Magazine where it is noted that “These two constitutions are spiritually determined/defined and are mutually exclusive, as one cannot be in both at the same time”24.
Amended Christadelphians reject this understanding, believing that being in Adam applies equally to those in Christ (baptized) as it does to those outside of Christ (unbaptized). Baptism does not separate us from our Adamic heritage. Dying is as much a part of being in Christ as it was prior to baptism and as members of the Christ body we are still descendents of Adam, or in Adam, and subject to death, though the inevitability of eternal death is removed. Nor does baptism deliver us from the sin prone nature we inherit from Adam, yet it will lead to our being delivered. The key difference is that from the Amended position the inevitability of eternal death is removed at baptism. In Romans 8:1 when Paul states, “there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”, he is not describing the removal of an inherited alienation, as JJ Andrew taught, he is emphasizing the need for right conduct; those in Christ, ”who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.”
The purpose for this somewhat detailed explanation becomes evident when we consider the wording, or lack of it, in the NASU document. Under the subheading Newness of Life (NASU, pg 5) we read: “Symbolically, in baptism, the old man (related to the one man, Adam) is put to death and we are reborn in newness of life (related to the one man, Jesus Christ)”. Though the wording appears innocent, it allows for two views to be believed, truth alongside error. Those who support the view of JJ Andrew/T Williams can continue to believe that they are no longer in Adam, or as NASU puts it “related to the one man, Adam”, but have passed out of Adam and into Christ, or “reborn” and “related to the one man, Jesus Christ”, thus accommodating and perpetuating their mistaken view of an inherited alienation that it is removed at baptism.
An ambiguous agreement, allowing for two different beliefs, cannot provide a basis for unity.
Under the above heading the NASU document conveniently records the words of Clause 24 contained in the BASF in the Introduction. It then proceeds to outline a Common expression of understanding. Under this heading it states that the reason for the amendment was “to guard against the teaching that God is restricted to raising only those in covenant relationship.” This was not the case; the purpose for the amendment was to clearly define the basis for resurrectional responsibility to the judgment seat of Christ.
The Amended community could be excused for understanding the terms “knowledge and calling” contained in the third bullet as a reference to Clause 24; however the Mutual Assurances emphasize that “knowledge and calling are grounds of condemnation and punishment by God”. In this statement there is no reference to resurrection to judgment; however under the Application of General Principle section the basis for resurrectional judgment is given as “Divine wisdom and justice” and not “knowledge of the revealed will of God.” This was the position of Thomas Williams, whose understanding is followed by many Unamended. In addition, Point “B” of the Mutual Assurances (pg 7) defines knowledge as “knowledgeable baptism,” thus applying knowledge to those in covenant relationship.
To reinforce the ambiguity of language in this section we will quote another comment from the Unamended correspondent: “The Mutual Assurances explicitly acknowledge respect and tolerance for different viewpoints on aspects of resurrectional responsibility… We have not agreed that knowledge and calling are “the” criteria for resurrectional responsibility. We have acknowledged them as “a” basis for condemnation”25. We would highlight the fact that “the criteria” is modified to “a basis”, thus clearly showing that resurrectional responsibility is understood quite differently by the Unamended community and that the NASU document is worded in such a way as to preserve the views of Thomas Williams specifically.
Another detail emerging from the above correspondence is that it appears, at least on the Unamended side, that the NASU document was never intended to be a document that addressed the differences between our two communities, rather “We have repeatedly stated publicly that our intent is to express what common understanding we can agree upon, thereby distilling the difference to its essence, and then see if what remains justifies remaining apart”. This same thought is captured in the section on Resurrectional Responsibility (NASU pg 7), where we read in the Introduction, “This section expresses the common understanding developed by the representatives of the two communities on Resurrectional Responsibility”. It couldn’t be clearer; the issues that have divided us were not addressed. All would agree that God’s hands are not tied in raising whom He deems to be so deserving, baptized or otherwise; all would agree that all who are baptized will be raised to judgment. Unfortunately however, the scriptural principle of resurrectional responsibility is shrouded in such ambiguous language so as to confuse the reader and obscure truth.
We need to seriously ask ourselves; how is there scriptural integrity in a unity document written to “acknowledge respect and tolerance for different viewpoints” on a first principle doctrine?
Following the distribution of the NASU 2001, many brethren suggested further clarifications to the doctrinal position on pages 3-6. When the NASU 2003 was distributed, no changes had been made to these pages, however a new section had been added entitled “Mutual Assurances,” supposedly providing further clarification to the doctrinal section. The purpose for this section has not been fully understood by many brethren, nor adequately explained. At a November 2009 Ontario unity meeting, it was suggested that a subsequent meeting be held between representatives of the five ecclesias expressing concerns about the UA08/NASU and two Amended members of the former NASU Steering committee, who would explain the purpose of the Mutual Assurances.
The outcome of the meeting indicated that the Mutual Assurances were added as discussion notes after the doctrinal aspects of the NASU were completed, for the purpose of providing further clarification and not establishing doctrinal positions. It was noted that they provided an historical perspective of how each community has viewed the key doctrinal issues and are written accordingly. It was understood that for this reason the Mutual Assurances should not be understood to supersede pages 3-6 of the NASU pertaining to doctrinal issues.
With this in mind the five ecclesias agreed to submit a third clarification in their “proposal to restore unity” covering this matter, which is presented in full below:
3) The Mutual Assurances were added after the doctrinal aspects of the NASU were completed as discussion notes intended to clarify understandings, not establish doctrinal positions. They provide an historical perspective of how each community has viewed the key doctrinal issues and are written accordingly. It is for this reason that the Mutual Assurances should not be understood to supersede pages 3-6 of the NASU nor the Unity Agreement 2010 clarifications pertaining to doctrinal issues.
Unfortunately, the perspective provided by the Amended representatives was not consistent with how the Unamended representatives understood the Mutual Assurances, as is evident from the comments in Section 4.3, and provides further evidence that the Amended and Unamended brethren on the Steering Committee did not understand the NASU in the same way. For the Unamended, the Mutual Assurances are very much intended to establish doctrinal positions. This is true for resurrectional responsibility, inherited alienation and baptism.
Under the heading “General Principles” of the Mutual Assurance pages, we read the following: “Rejection of God’s knowledge and calling are grounds of condemnation and punishment by God.” As with other sections of the NASU, the statement is accurate but does not go far enough; it only presents a half truth, but a truth that the Unamended participants could endorse whilst retaining views that conflict with the statement in Clause 24 of the BASF. Regrettably, this Mutual Assurance statement does not define when the condemnation and punishment will occur. In the Unamended publication “Resurrectional Responsibility – Should it be a test of Fellowship?” it is taught that those coming under this category “would be punished in this life”. This understanding, in which judgment occurs during one’s lifetime, not after resurrection, places an entirely different meaning on the general principle, and at the least makes it unclear.
Under the heading “Application of the General Principles” (pg 7) we read, “Divine wisdom and justice alone will determine who should be raised from the dead to be condemned and punished on these grounds”. This is not what is stated in Clause 24. It is agreed that divine wisdom and justice is a prerequisite in all judgment but the Amended community has consistently believed and taught that the responsible are “namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it”. Once again the Mutual Assurances indicate a bias towards the Unamended position (especially the thinking of Thomas Williams who was responsible for amending the Birmingham Statement of Faith to what has become known as the BUSF).
Item I of the Mutual Assurances ( pg 8 ) states, “By the grace of God we are cleansed and reconciled to Him through this faithful act (i.e. baptism)…” Unfortunately, as with other sections of the NASU, this language is left open to interpretation because in Unamended literature cleansing is viewed as pertaining to the removal of a legal defilement embodied in our nature; a defilement which is removed by baptism in addition to the remission of our personal sins.26 Knowing the Unamended teaching on this subject, why wasn’t the subject of cleansing more clearly defined, or why couldn’t a glossary of terms have been incorporated in NASU?
Also under this section, we are re-introduced to the views commented on above in section 4.1, for we read, “In this sense (i.e. baptism), condemnation associated with the race headed by Adam is lifted…” (our emphasis). It has already been demonstrated in section 4.1 that in Unamended literature, condemnation associated with the race is directly linked to the teaching of “legal defilement” which is viewed separately from a “physical and moral defilement”. Whilst the Unamended presently participating in the UA08/NASU may claim to reject this Unamended teaching, the real issue is that the NASU leaves the door open to others signing on to the agreement who do not reject this teaching, confirming that the NASU is deficient as a statement of clear understanding.
Other comments could be introduced to demonstrate the point further. We believe sufficient has been presented to show that the NASU does not express clear doctrinal statements, but adds confusion to the BASF, which for one hundred years has required no Statement of Understanding. By adding the two Final Clarifications in the UA08, the principle contained in Clause 24 of the BASF was retained. Unfortunately, the Unamended, while claiming to accept the Final Clarifications, do not view them as being part of the doctrinal position of the Agreement as they understand it, preferring the clarifications were eliminated altogether, thus deemphasizing the importance of knowledge and responsibility. Despite being aware of these facts, the UA08/NASU Amended ecclesias continue to extend fellowship to the UA08 Unamended, having abandoned key provisions in the original framework of the UA08.
The BASF, which defines Amended beliefs, is rejected as a unifying document in favour of the UA08/NASU, which is sufficiently elastic and ambiguous to accommodate both Amended and Unamended beliefs.
19 The petition stated, “It is apparent that there is some ambiguity regarding exactly what beliefs the UA08 agreement requires of those in the Unamended community regarding the responsibility issue… This memorandum sets out five basic principles of what the Bible teaches on this issue culled from previous reunion agreements, as a proposal for interpreting the meaning and intent of the UA08 document as it relates to Unamended believers.” It can be found at http://www.petitiononline.com/UA08prop/petition.html.
21 “The agreed UA08/NASU forms an equivalency document for the two statements of faith the BASF & BUSF as was proposed for California but not used.” (“A Letter Concerning Fellowship” from 25 brothers and sisters in response to Midwest correspondence, January 18, 2011).