THE DEVIL IN THE MIRROR AND OTHER CHRISTADELPHIAN THEOLOGY

 

BY ROBERT C. HILL, THB.

(First published in The Discerner in two parts: Jan/Feb/Mar. & Apr/May/June, 2000)

 

The Christadelphians ask, “Is there any religious body extant today which adheres to the true and saving teachings of the Bible? We believe there is! They call themselves The Christadelphians.”  This same publication asks the reader to “seriously consider their credibility, their teachings . . .Honestly examine the reasons for their inner conviction . . .” (Introducing the Christadelphians, vol. 38, no. 4, July 1992, p.2).  Several of their main theological teachings will be examined as this challenge is accepted; but first a brief historical sketch.

The Christadelphians (Brothers of Christ) have a history dating back to the middle of the nineteenth century when their founder, John Thomas (1805-1871), officially registered that name during the American Civil War.  According to some members, “Bro. Thomas was an instrument in Yahweh’s hands who uncovered the Truth and promulgated it everywhere” (J.B.S., “Speak Out the Truth,” available from http://www.antipas.org accessed 1-16-2000). Another prominent figure in this sect’s history was Robert Roberts and J. J. Andrew.  These two men split the Christadelphians into two separate movements back in the 1890’s.  The split has produced two named groups: the Amended and the Unamended both of which are operative today.  The major issue for this schism came about over what is termed resurrectional responsibility: For the Amended, all who are responsible will be resurrected (both baptized and unbaptized who know the will of God). For the Unamended, only those in Christ will be resurrected, while those out of Christ will be annihilated (cf. Rev 20:11-15 which clearly indicates a resurrection of those not included in the book of life, contrary to these views).

The doctrines they teach break down at some point to the biblical truths ascertained through sound interpretative methods.  This article will focus primarily on the Christadelphian teachings that reject the holy Trinity, the sufficiency of Christ for salvation, a personal devil, and the rejection of various intermediate and eschatological positions held by evangelicals. 

HOW MANY GODS?

A list of all the doctrines to be rejected by Christadelphians is located in their document entitled Statement of Faith.  The second entry on this list “That God is three persons” comes as no surprise (http://www.christadelphia.net.au/Statement.html accessed 1-15-2000).  However, rejection of the doctrine of the holy Trinity, places faith, whether held by individuals or sects, outside historic Christianity and its rejection is deemed harshly though necessarily heretical.  Many of the same arguments utilized for this dismissal exist in other aberrant teachings within such organizations as the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, to name one.  Nevertheless, the Christadelphians add their own unique twist, that is, Jesus had no prior existence before His Incarnation.

In its strictest sense, the Christadelphians are monotheists. Taken from their Statement of Faith document:

That the only true God is He who was revealed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by angelic visitation and vision, and to Moses at the flaming bush unconsumed and at Sinai, and Who manifested Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the supreme self-existent Deity, the ONE FATHER, dwelling in unapproachable light, yet everywhere present by His Spirit, which is a unity with His person in Heaven (Truth to be Received, 1, http://www.widomaker.com/basf1.htm accessed 1-16-2000).

 

      Robert Roberts, in his lecture “God is One,” emphasizes, “Christendom is astray in its conceptions of God . . . Knowledge of God is the basis of sonship to God.  Without it, we cannot enter the divine family. How can we love and serve a being whom we do not know?” (Christendom Astray from the Bible, p. 1 http://users.aol.com/bible2007/god.htm).  We can agree that we cannot love nor serve a God whom we know nothing about.  The charge is that we do not know Him because of our trinitarian belief.  However, can God be correctly conceived as not triune based on Christadelphian teachings?  Their arguments do not support their thesis and therefore their teaching must be rejected. Note the following evidence and interpretation.

     Roberts’ insists that the early church fell into apostasy with its trinitarian imposition on the faithful (1).  He also writes:

Trinitarianism propounds-not a mystery, but a contradiction—a stultification—an impossibility . . .It says there is one God, yet not one but three, and that the three are not three but one.  It is a mere juggle of words, a bewilderment and confusion to the mind, all the more dangerous, because the theory for which it is an apology, employs in some measure the language of the Bible, which talks to us of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (2).

 

He goes on to cite the Shema (Deut 6:4) and several other passages, which address God as One God (cf. 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:6; 1 Tim 2:5 )

     God is one and Christians have always maintained this vital aspect of Biblical truth.  Likewise, God is three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is not something based on Hellenistic thinking or on some misinformed council but the evidence for a triune God is heavily weighted in Scripture.  Furthermore, Roberts’ cites there is no other God (cf. Isa 46:9; 45:5; 46:6,8).  Again there is agreement for Christians are monotheists; however, the question arises about the deity of Christ when Jesus is declared God in the New Testament.  For example, taking two verses, John 1:1, “and the word was God,” and John 20:28, “my lord and my God” brought a dilemma for the early Christians as they began to formulate biblical doctrine arising out of controversies.  Either Christianity was polytheistic (more than one god), or somehow, Jesus Himself is God!  In light of  the Isaiah passages just cited, the conclusion weights heavily in favor of Jesus being God the Son.  When reading passages in the New Testament, there are three distinct persons: The Father (cf. John 6:27; 1 Pet 1:2), The Son (cf. 1:1), and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4), yet there is one God (Deut 6:4). The Bible also reveals both oneness and threeness (Matt 28:19, name is singular) with each person equally noted in the same passage (cf. Matt 3:16-17; 2 Cor 13:14). 

     As for the charge that the Trinity contains a contradiction, “It says there is one God, yet not one but three, and the three are not three but one” (2) is a false conclusion on Roberts’ part.  Despite the fact that the correct expression is not one God and three God’s as asserted here. Nevertheless, as Norman Geisler aptly states, “The philosophical law of non-contradiction informs us that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense . . . and the doctrine of the Trinity does not violate it.” He further demonstrates that the Trinity is not both one person and three persons nor one nature and three natures at the same time and in the same sense. This would be contradictory.  Geisler gives the correct understanding of this law when applied to the Trinity:

     . . . to put it in terms of the law of non-contradiction, while God is one and many at the same time, he is not one and many in the same sense.  He is one in the sense of his essence but many in the sense of his persons.  So there is no violation of the law of non-contraction in the doctrine of the Trinity (Norman L. Geisler, Trinity, Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 734).

 

     Subsequent to the Christadelphian rejection of the holy Trinity is their dismissal of the deity of Christ, as previously stated, but with a twist.   Their teachings on this subject go beyond many other sects in that they assert Jesus did not pre-exist before His incarnation:

Although such a question, if asked of any other person, would be treated with the ridicule it deserves, it is seriously alleged of the Lord . . . From his mother, he derived the nature common to all mankind, but from his Father he inherited latent spiritual proclivities that strengthened him to conquer the flesh, and manifest divine qualities . . . Nowhere is it suggested that he existed before his birth (Jesus Did Not Pre-Exist, p.2 available from http://www.christadelphia.org, accessed 1-16-2000).

 

Christadelphian literature on this subject goes to great measures in analyzing the Scriptures.  However, their emphasis on the human nature of Jesus is such that the exclusion of His deity is the outcome their doctrine.  One example of this involves their interpretation of the genealogy of Christ as stated in Matthew and Luke where the emphasis is on Jesus’ being the son of numerous Old Testament people (cf. Matt 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).  According to the same article, “If Jesus lived in some form before Abraham and David, he was not their son, and the statement is false” (2).  Or, “If Christ pre-existed, how could he be described as the ‘seed of the woman?’” (3).  These examples and similar arguments are based on texts that support the humanity of Christ.  However, in delineating the humanity of Christ one must not exclude those texts that support His deity. 

What does Scripture contain concerning the pre-existence of Jesus? Jesus Himself states, “ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58, NASB).  This is a claim to eternality (cf. Ex 3:14).  In fact, the very next verse records the Jews picking up stones to throw at Him because of this very claim (v. 59).  Their understanding of Jesus’ remark was that He blasphemed.  Note John 3:13 as well, “ ‘And no one has ascended into heaven, who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.”  More evidence of His pre-existence, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).  The support is in fact overwhelming for His pre-existence and eternality (also cf. John 1:1{with God in the beginning}; John 1:3 and Col. 1:16{involved in creation}; Micah 5:2 {goings forth from long ago}; etc.). 

The Christadelphians must use an array of misdirection, Scripture twisting, and reading their own interpretation into the biblical text in order to arrived at their conclusion that Jesus did not exist.  Let one more example suffice.  In the creation passage (cf. Col 1:16) as previously stated, the Christadelphians remark,

for it appears to teach that the Lord Jesus created even heaven. But a close examination of the passage will reveal that it teaches too much if this interpretation is pressed, for it claims that he created all things ‘in heaven.’  That would include God Himself, to say nothing of the angels! ( 6). 

 

This statement continues by explaining that the verse in question really means a heaven other than one above us and is more about a realm, “The coming of the Lord Jesus will result in the formation of these political heavens.  The rulers who will reign therein will be followers of the Lord Jesus . . . ” (6).  Of course, this is quite an imposition on holy text.   In fact, if they did not render this as the meaning, the reader would be hard pressed to derive it from the context.  A closer reading of Colossians 1:16 demonstrates a creation in past time, note the last clause, “all things have been created through Him and for Him.”  The English rendering of have been created is in Greek an aorist passive verb indicating that creation was done in the past by Him and in His creation He has preeminence.  Furthermore, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).  Certainly, this is not some future political heaven as the Christadelphians maintain.

A third denial involving the nature of God is a denial of the personhood of the Holy Spirit.  One Christadelphian publication, The Godhead Explained, states it this way,

The Holy Spirit is the energy or power of God, by which all creation came originally into being, and by which it is sustained.  Whilst God, Himself, is localized in heaven, His Spirit is diffused throughout creation (Psalm 139:7-12).  This God-derived energy is the substratum of all creation (Acts 17:25).  In that connection, science today confirms Scripture by teaching that energy is the basis of all matter (Herald of the Coming Age, vol. 35, no.1,  May, 1989, p. 15).

 

This energy or power is given a pantheistic nuance, according to this statement, by underlying all matter.  Furthermore, it should be noted that the Christadelphians believe in creation ex deo (out of God) with God at the center of creation.  Therefore, the Holy Spirit is viewed as the emanating source from God.  This source, according to the Christadelphians, is non-personal.  They would deny the biblical teaching concerning the deity of the Holy Spirit, that is, the Spirit having a distinctive subsistence within the one substance of the Godhead.  All Scripture that demonstrates a unique person is passed off as personification.  The Christadelphians claim this with the English renderings of He with reference to the Holy Spirit.  However, there is ample proof that the Holy Spirit is indeed the third person of the Holy Trinity (note that in The Godhead Explained, the author erred in presenting the Holy Spirit as the second person, p.16).  There is also Scriptural support for the translation of He, especially when helper or comforter is used (cf. John 14:26; 16:7 where the Greek word is masculine).  The Holy Spirit was sent to convict us of sin, hardly a matter for an energy force (John 16:8).  He also gives life (John 3:6) and intercedes on behalf of believers (Rom 8:26); is called God (Acts 5:3-4), and so forth.

 

NEW MATH? FAITH + WATER= SALVATION

     The Christadelphians also teach that baptism is essential for salvation.  This view is erroneous in that it implies Christ’s atonement was not sufficient for our salvation and that something else must be added to His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.  From their publication, Baptism essential to salvation, baptism into Christ accomplishes three things:

1. It provides a cover which blots out past sins by forgiveness; 2. It inducts one into Christ Jesus providing a basis of fellowship with God; 3. It provides a means of access to the divine throne of mercy ensuring the continued forgiveness of sins after baptism, when such are confessed and forsaken (Herald of the Coming Age, vol. 42 no.1, n.d., p.12)

 

Co-mingled with this water baptism for salvation is obedience.  The Christadelphians believe, “Those who are so baptized and learn thus to deny themselves in order to serve God, are assured of a resurrection to life eternal at the coming of the Lord Jesus” (10). 

      It is always interesting to read key passages from Scripture in light of other theological persuasions because many times it will reveal a heavy interjection of reading back one’s theology into the text.  Take for example, the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43).  The thief was promised to be with Christ that very day in paradise, and this passage rightly demonstrates what has come to be known in today’s language as an example of a deathbed conversion.  Yet, the Christadelphians will insist that John baptized him, “It is also obvious that the thief had heard of Jesus before he was impaled upon the cross, and doubtless, had been previously baptized . . . he was evidently familiar with the teaching of Christ . . . His crime was perhaps a minor one, if it was not a miscarriage of justice as in the case of Jesus” (13).  This is quite a stretch, particularly in light of Marks account where “Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him” (Mark 15:32).  The weight of the thief being baptized lightens in view of Mark’s passage weighing in favor of conversion and salvation apart from water.  Wayne Grudem writes, “To say that baptism or any other action is necessary for salvation is to say that we are not justified by faith alone, but by faith plus a certain “work,” the work of baptism” (Systematic Theology, p. 981).  Water baptism is correctly understood in terms of obedience to Christ but not as essential to salvation.

 

 

THE DEVIL IN THE MIRROR?

One item listed in the Christadelphian Doctrines to be Rejected, which is included in their Statement of Faith, is their denial of a personal devil.  Indeed, one writer states “the idea of an external, super-natural source of spiritual evil . . .lie in paganism.”  This evil comes from man “as being the originator of sin, and evil” and that “biblical labels ‘satan’ [sic] and ‘devil’, are in fact common terms meaning a generic ‘enemy’, ‘adversary’ or ‘slanderer’” (Response to Mainstream Christianity: The Source of Evil, p.1 http://www.christadelphia.org, accessed 1-16-2000). 

The denial of a real, personal devil is not without major problems.  Indeed, Jesus believed in the reality of such a creature and had numerous encounters with him and his dominions.  One only has to go to the temptation sequence to verify Christ’s encounter with creation’s primary adversary the devil, Satan (cf. Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-14;).  In Matthew’s account both devil (vs. 1, 5, 8, 10) and Satan (vs. 13) are used interchangeably (also note Rev 12:9; 20:2). However, if one were to believe the Christadelphians, they claim that the word Satan “has been used in various ways which indicate that it is not ‘another name for the Devil,’ as some suggest” (The Truth About Lucifer, vol.41 no.6, p.11, n.d.).  Well, if Jesus declared Satan as the name of the devil, then we should too!

Other passages include Jesus witnessing Satan’s falling from heaven (Luke 10:18).  How is one to make sense of the passage where Jesus tells Peter that Satan wants to sift him like wheat, if there is no devil? (Luke 22:31).  Scripture describes Satan entering Judas the night of our Lord’s betrayal (John 13:27).  If Satan was merely man’s own evil, then how does it come from the outside to the inner man? 

      Furthermore, the apostle Paul explains to the Corinthian congregation that he was going to turn one of their sinning members over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (1 Cor 5:5; also, 1 Tim 1:20).  Once again, it is hard to imagine this Satan as a non-entity.  If there is any doubt at this point, read Jude 9.  In that passage archangel Michael is arguing with the devil over the body of Moses.  Left to the Christadelphian understanding of the devil, Michael would have to be having a dispute against “fallen human nature, with its evil propensities . . .” as that is exactly how the devil is defined (15).  Indeed, each of us would see the devil in the mirror each time we looked at our reflection.  One need not go any further as the above passages clearly teach us that there exists an evil creature, fallen from heaven, whose name is Satan.

 

 

SLEEP AFTER DEATH?

The Christadelphians also teach rejection of an immortal soul and a denial of any conscious awareness after death.  They also hold to annihilationism for the damned. One publication states, “Never does the bible suggest that a person continues to live after the death of the body . . . Instead, the Bible’s offer of immortality [is] at the coming of Jesus Christ” (Why is Man Mortal, vol. 38, no.3, May 92, p. 1, May 1992).  Furthermore, they teach that a belief in the soul of man continuing to exist after death is “rooted in man’s desperate endeavours to deny the absolute reality of death, in the hope that life will continue . . .” (p. 3).  This major tenant of the Christian faith is said to be “not taught within the pages of the bible.  It is a philosophy which owes it [sic] origin entirely to pagan mythology, and finds no part in the faith of the ancient Hebrews; nor is it taught by Christ and his apostles in the New Testament Scriptures” (p.5).

There are many similarities between the Christadelphians and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society concerning the soul and the afterlife.  Their augments place emphasis on death and grave to such an extent that the context in which these words are located is often overlooked.  One example is the use of Ecclesiastes 9:10.  Here the reader will find within the context, a referent to doing things that the living do in the world and nothing at all to what the Christadelphians are reading into the text, that the dead have nothing to do in the afterlife (intermediate state) where they are located.  Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes in their book, When Cultists Ask, give a powerfully biblical response regarding the denial of conscious awareness after death:

1.      Enoch was taken to be with God (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). 2. David spoke of bliss in God’s presence after death (Ps. 16:10-11).  3. Elijah was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1, 11-12).  4. Moses and Elijah were conscious on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:3).  5. Jesus said he went to the Father the day he died (Luke 23:46).   6. Jesus promised that the repentant thief would be with him in paradise the very day he died (Luke 23:43).  7. Paul said it was far better to die and be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). 8. Paul affirmed that when we are ‘absent from the body’ the ‘we are present with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:8).  9. The writer of Hebrews refers to heaven as a place where ‘the spirits of just men [are] made perfect’ (Heb. 12:23). 10. The ‘souls’ of those martyred during the tribulation were conscious in heaven, singing and praying to God (Rev. 6:9).  11. Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ (Acts 7:59).  12. Jesus, in speaking about Old Testament saints Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, said that God ‘is not the God of the dead, but of the living’ (Luke 20:38).  Jesus was saying, ‘Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though they died many years ago, are actually living today.  For God, who calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not the God of the dead but of the living.’ (266-7).

 

The believer then goes to be with the Lord immediately following death, while the unbeliever awaits the final judgment (cf. Matt 25:41, 46; Mark 9:43-48; Rev 20:11-15).

CONCLUSION

      Like many others trying to find the true faith, John Thomas, the founder of the Chritadelphian movement has taken the wrong pathway.  He rightfully sought to question what he had been taught in light of Scripture.  Yet, he overlooked sound methodology in his quest for truth.  At the end of the day the Evangelical tenants of faith, grounded in the Word of God, through good interpretative methodology overlooks the rising mound of theological doctrines unable to maintain consistent support from the full weight of Scripture.

 

 

 

WORKS CITED

Baptism essential to salvation. In Herald of the Coming Age. Edited by G.E. Mansfield.

            Findon: Logos Publications, n.d.                                     

 

Introducing the Christadelphians. In Herald of the Coming Age. Edited by G.E.

            Mansfield, Findon: Logos Pub., July 1992. 

 

J.B.S. “Speak Out the Truth.” Antipas Christadelphians. http://www.antipas.org.

 

Jesus Did Not Pre-Exist. http://www.christadelphia.org.

 

J.S., Jesus Did Not Pre-Exist. http://www.christadelphia.org.

 

Norman L. Geisler. Trinity. Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker.

            Book House, 1999

 

 Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes. When Cultists Ask. Grand Rapids: Baker Books,

            1998.  

 

Response to Mainstream Christianity: The Source of Evil. Edited by K. Hunter of the

Saanich Peninsula Ecclesia. http://www.christadelphia.org.

 

Robert Robert’s. Christendom Astray from the Bible. 1884.  Available from Texas

            Christadelphian http://users.aol.com/bible2007/god.htm

 

Statement of Faith, http://www.christadelphia.net.au/Statement.html.

 

Statement of Faith, “Truth to be Received” Christadelphian. 

            http://www.widomaker.com/basf1.htm.

 

The Godhead Explained. In Herald of the Coming Age. Edited by G.E. Mansfield. Finton:

            Logos Pub.,May, 1989.

 

The Truth About Lucifer. In Herald of the Coming Age. Edited by G. E. Mansfield.

            Finton: Logos Pub., n.d.

 

Truth to be Received.  http://www.widomaker.com/basf1.htm.

 

Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

 

Why is Man Mortal.  In Herald of the Coming Age. Edited by G.E. Mansfield. Fenton:

Logos Pub., May 1992.

 

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