Introducing the Christadelphians
A Roman emperor intent on using religion to unify a collapsing empire, church leaders preventing people from reading the Bible, the humble printing press, and a lot of man facing bitter persecution because of their determination to seek Bible truth... they all played a part in making Christianity what it is today. But are today’s church teachings the same as they were when Christianity began?
First Century Practices
The First century church was formed by Jesus’ disciples and apostles such as Peter, James, Paul and John, and it was John’s disciples who became known as “The Church Fathers”. The writings of one of them, Justin Martyr (100-167AD), survive today and tell us how the first century church worshipped—he describes how early believers met on Sundays to read a section from both Old and New Testaments of The Bible, listen to a talk of encouragement and admonition, and to stand for a common prayer and thanks for the memorial bread and wine that was then shared. Finally a collection was taken for all those in need.
External Influences on the Church
Unfortunately over the next two to three centuries, Greek and Eastern ideas overwhelmed their simple practices and basic gospel message, and introduced elaborate rituals and man-made philosophies.
Then, at the time the Roman Empire was weakening, Emperor Constantine, in a bid to prop up the tottering empire, decided to adopt a state religion, and chose Christianity. This marked the politicization of religion to suit the empire’s needs, and its primary aim became that of providing political unity.
Key figures within the church such as Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine attended a series of conferences at which they agreed key doctrines they wanted the empire’s citizens to know. The church had become the Roman authority’s church.
A Call to Reform
This Roman church maintained a firm grip on power until the sixteenth century, when common people grew increasingly dissatisfied with the state church and its ever-deepening hierarchy. The rule that only priests were allowed to read and interpret The Bible now ignited a reformation: in Germany, Martin Luther translated the original Greek New Testament into German, and in England in 1525, William Tyndale translated the original into English, followed later by a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew. Helped by the development of the first printing press, he was able to publish these in large quantities. His famous claim to church teachers that “if God spare my life... I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of scripture than thou doest” led to him being driven from the country.
Tyndale fled to Belgium, where he strove to fulfil that promise, and became part of the protestant movement in Europe. In 1527, Balthasar Hubmaier complained, “we have been fed the scraps of the gospel cluttered up with human content and additions.” Tyndale and others like him were about to make that change.
Zurich and Geneva became centres for those who wanted to read The Bible for themselves rather than relying on the established church’s interpretation. This group of Bible believers became known as Anabaptists, an umbrella term for these reformers who said, “we don’t want clerics telling us what to do.” They were keen to bring about a total separation of church and state to allow true religion to flourish once more. Now able to read The Bible for themselves for the first time, they soon saw that the church’s teachings had deviated from the original apostle’s doctrines and practices. The Anabaptists believed the Bible’s teaching that Jesus would return to establish God’s kingdom on earth, and rejected church dogmas such as the notion that babies should be baptized. They became a very pious group devoted to the scriptures but suffered bitter persecution from the Church.
Back in England, William Cromwell helped to bring copies of William Tyndale’s Bible translation into the country, and the reforming groups grew there despite continued persecution. In the eighteenth century, men like John Wesley encouraged a methodical reading of scripture and its application to daily life, and his followers therefore became known as Methodists. They formed part of the next wave of émigrés to America and expected to find true religion there amongst the believers called “The Puritans”, a group founded by the famous “pilgrim fathers” who had earlier fled to America and had sought to restore a pure and apostolic-like community. However, the Methodists found that even The Puritans had by this time started to lose their aim of adhering to the first century practices.
This led to the birth of the “Restoration Movement” in America, and men like Barton Stone and Thomas Campbell succeeded in establishing a single body of Christians who wanted to follow the New Testament practice of meeting to share bread and wine, and they taught original Bible practices such as full adult baptism in water.
Seeking Bible Truth
In the early eighteen hundreds, an English doctor called John Thomas was emigrating to the USA. The crossing was so bad that he vowed if God gave him safe passage, he would seek to find out about The Bible. Finally arriving safely, he fulfilled his promise, and met reformers such as Alexander Campbell. What they taught made John Thomas realise that he himself knew little of what The Bible actually said, so set about studying it in great depth. The more he looked into Bible teachings, the more he started to question whether even some of Campbell’s teachings failed to correctly align with The Bible, and published a magazine and numerous pamphlets to encourage further discussion.
In 1847, groups of Bible believers in the UK who had been thrown out of the Campbellites for questioning some of what Campbell taught, invited John Thomas to visit, and he returned to Britain, where he undertook a major preaching tour. He was delighted to find that they, like him, held a strong desire to understand the pure Bible truth. At the end of his tour, he was asked to publish his key findings, and he wrote the book Elpis Israel (“The Hope of Israel”).
Christadelphians Get Their Name
Back in America, 1864 saw the start of the American civil war and the start of conscription, and John Thomas took the role of representing the American groups of likeminded believers before the authorities to explain that they adhered to the belief that “we are not at liberty to engage in warfare”. He was told that to register for conscientious objection, the group needed a name, and he suggested they be called “Christadelphians” from the Greek for “brethren (and sisters) in Christ” based upon Paul’s greeting in his letter to the Colossian church, which he addressed to “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ” (Colossians 1v2).
Still adamant of the need to revive original Bible teaching, John Thomas issued a pamphlet entitled A Testimony on Behalf of the Original Apostolic Teaching. He stressed that Christadelphians were not his followers, and that he was not inspired in anything he wrote, but was simply showing others what was written in The Bible.
A Legacy of Bible Truth
Despite his wish to return to England for good, John Thomas died in America in 1871. His headstone testifies to his faith: “During a busy lifetime, by mouth and pen, he contended earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and at his death left behind him as a result of his labours, a body of people in different parts of the world known as the Christadelphians.”
He left a legacy of clearly defined doctrines that matched those taught in New Testament times by the apostles, and which form the cohesive bedrock of true Christian beliefs. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle that is being competed face-down. Pieces can be made to fit together, but when it is turned the right way up, it’s clear that the overall picture is wrong, even though it originally seemed as though the pieces had slotted together. That was how John Thomas viewed what was being taught—only be looking at the overall picture is it possible to confirm that all the individual teachings are correct. He had realised The Bible had one overarching theme: “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”. Using that as the big picture, he was able to check whether or not all the individual religious doctrines keyed easily into that theme—in effect it allowed The Bible to interpret itself with that theme as the key.
John Thomas’s role in helping to guide those groups of believers now called Christadelphians was taken over Robert Roberts, who lived in Birmingham. He continued the mission to spread the original Bible message, and at his death in 1898, the Birmingham Post described him as “a prodigious worker with his pen and an eloquent speaker.”
Christadelphians continue to the present day, forming a worldwide community who believe that the teachings of Jesus and the apostles are as true and applicable today as they ever were. Christadephians have no paid ministry and no pomp or ceremony, but meet weekly in the same way the first century church did as described in Acts 2v42, where Luke recorded that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Christadelphians hold Sunday School classes so that children can learn and make their own informed decision on whether they wish to follow Jesus, as well as many youth activities, and Bible schools for adults. They preach through regular Bible talks, free seminars, ‘Bible Learning Centres’ in shop premises, and via a free magazine called Glad Tidings. Their work extends throughout the world to bring Bible teaching to everyone, alongside running care homes for the elderly, and providing practical help to those in need, especially in the Third World. Aligned to what Paul writes in Galatians 6v10, they seek to “do good unto all men.”
Several religious experts have testified to how Christadelphians align their teachings and practices to those of the first century church. Roy Facey in the 1981 independent publication, International Church Index, wrote that “Christadelphians believe that their faith is that of the first century church, and their organisation is the nearest to the spirit of the first century.” Other non-Christian researchers also testify to their beliefs being the closest to following the original Christian faith.
Christadelphians meet regularly in Pershore as well as elsewhere across this country and abroad. You can explore this website to find out more about their simple and straight forward beliefs and practices, and their adherence solely to the original and unaltered Bible teaching.