Misconceptions and Questions Regarding Unamended Beliefs

It is an all too common element of disagreement that opponents, intentionally or unintentionally, misstate or mischaracterize the opposing position. Sometimes characterizations are presumed or suggested due to perceived similarities, while at other times characterizations are suggested to evoke a response, sway an audience or redirect the argument. Debates are replete with complaints that positions have been misstated or misrepresented, usually with considerable time spent defending, as opposed to presenting. Such behavior is all too natural and there seems to be no endeavor or strongly held beliefs exempt from this snare. That the Truth has been a target for misrepresentation is obvious from both the Biblical record as well as from philosophical attacks in our day. Not only does the scripture warn of "false teachers" and those that would "pervert the gospel of Christ", but of brethren "unskillful in the word of righteousness", or from "war in your members...fightings among you." Thus we need to be aware that we can be offenders as well as targets in this regard.

Over the years there have been misconceptions regarding Unamended beliefs and positions, some of which seem to have resiliency and continue to appear in print or conversation. Although these misconceptions are discomforting, they do provide us with an understanding of how others may view our beliefs, as well as an opportunity to discern and clarify the intricacies of those beliefs. We need to keep in mind that an all too common failing among men is that often all they know about a subject is what they have been told, without hearing or confirming firsthand. We need to be aware that in the worldwide Christadelphian community there are many who are not familiar with and have never read Unamended writers, as well as those who have never been exposed to or correctly understood Unamended beliefs. In addition, our neighbors and acquaintances in the world, which find our beliefs to be in contrast to their faith, may jump to incorrect associations or conclusions. When responding to inquiries or accusations, we must be helpful, and above all, scriptural. Paul counsels, Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Even in contentious settings, we are exhorted, But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is within you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

Under the above title of "Misconceptions and Questions", we will respond to selected questions reflecting misconceptions regarding Unamended beliefs, questions that may have been presented as statements or inquiries to members of the Unamended community. Some of the selected questions may be genuine inquiries while others may reflect challenges to those Unamended positions that have been debated over the years. In this initial presentation, we will consider the topic of resurrectional responsibility. We plan, Lord willing, to address additional questions in this format from time to time in succeeding issues of the Advocate. Readers may submit their questions to the editor.

HAVE UNAMENDED CHRISTADELPHIANS CHANGED THEIR BELIEFS FROM THE PIONEER TEACHINGS REGARDING RESURRECTIONAL RESPONSIBILITY?

Resurrectional responsibility is well documented in scripture. Zechariah declared that it was by the blood of thy covenant that the prisoners of hope were to be released from the pit (9:11-12), and in Hebrews, Paul proclaims that Jesus was brought again from the dead...through the blood of the everlasting covenant (13:20). Thus it is the sacrifice of Christ, as represented by the blood of the covenant, that has the power to open the grave. We become associated with that life giving blood through baptism, at which point we put on Christ, and enter the covenant becoming heirs according to the promise. We proclaim these truths with the reading of Romans chapter 6 at baptisms, which likens baptism to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ; For, if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection (vs. 5).

The teaching of the Unamended Christadelphian body since the beginning was that Christ's household; (those having entered covenant relationship) were responsible to resurrection and judgment, having been released from the hold of death when they came into Christ. In 1867 Robert Roberts issued "A Declaration" - propositions formally documenting "First Principles of the Oracles of the Deity" held by Christadelphians, which included:

"That at the return of Jesus Christ from heaven, to establish his kingdom on earth, he will, first of all, summon before him for judgment, the whole of his professing household...Faithful and unfaithful will be mustered together before his judgment seat..." (Prop. No. XXXI)

Two years later the first Statement of Faith was issued, arranged by Dr. Thomas and published by Bro. Roberts, which in this regard read:

"That at the appearing of Christ, his servants, faithful and unfaithful, dead and living of both classes, will be summoned before his judgment seat to be judged according to their works..." (XV, D)

Later Unamended Statements changed "his servants" to "the responsible", but otherwise read essentially the same. The Unamended household has consistently believed and taught that those who have entered into covenant relationship with God, through faith and baptism into Christ, are responsible to resurrection. All those who remain "in Adam" remain strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12)

IS THIRD CLASS RESURRECTION AN OPEN QUESTION?

Definitions and beliefs have changed so much in the past one hundred years, that for some, open question status has been antiquated to the point of irrelevance. It is necessary to first understand what "third class resurrection" meant to pre-Amendment Christadelphians. As we have seen, it was well established that it was covenant relationship that made men responsible to resurrection, and that upon his return Christ would gather "his household / his servants / the responsible" before him for judgment. Within the household there were two classes identified - "faithful and unfaithful", the faithful to be raised to "incorruptibility" and to live and reign with Christ, while the unfaithful consigned to "the lake of fire". However, some believed that knowledgeable rejecters of the Word might be subject to a resurrection to "condemnation", but, as it was recognized that they were not associated with the two classes within the household, this group was identified as a "third class". Dr. Thomas' speculation that these individuals might be reserved for resurrection at the end of the thousand year reign seems to have been commonly referenced, if not promoted, by brethren writing at that time. Writing in 1870, Bro. Roberts says:

As to those believing the truth but refusing to acknowledge and submit to it from sinister motives, it is not impossible these may be held responsible... Persecutors of the apostolic era would come into the "third-class" class, by their rejection of the truth in the presence of miracles. Their cases will probably be dealt with at the close of the thousand years, as they form no part of the household of faith, who are to be the subjects of the judgment instituted at the coming of Christ...writing on the same subject in the Herald, Dr. Thomas says: We believe that the scriptures teach the resurrection of the just and of the unjust, who have died under times of knowledge, whose knowledge they have accepted; and the resurrection a thousand years afterwards of 'the rest of the dead' who have intelligently rejected it. (The Christadelphian, June 1, 1870, Vol. 7, page 186)

The position that "third-class" resurrection is an open question was based upon pre-Amendment beliefs that were known and published, specifically, 1) third class resurrection was for many a matter of speculation (i.e., "may be held responsible", "will probably be dealt with", etc.), 2) care was taken to see that third class resurrection was not associated with the resurrection of the household, with speculation consigning third class resurrection to the close of the 1000 year millennial reign, and 3) it was not elevated to a fundamental belief affecting fellowship.

Unfortunately, the 1898 Amendment represented changes in beliefs regarding this subject, as well as a determination to elevate those beliefs to a test of fellowship. Since that time, many profess that "God will" as opposed to "God may" raise some out of covenant relationship; that "light", and not the blood of Christ / covenant relationship, is the basis of resurrection for saint and rejecter alike; and that the rejecter will be brought with the household before the judgment seat of Christ - to be judged according to their works. After the Amendment, Bro. Williams and Bro. Andrew both labored to encourage brethren to return to the "old foundation" as expressed in the "Old Birmingham Statement of Faith and Basis of Fellowship", both reaffirming their commitment to third class resurrection as an open question contingent upon pre-Amendment beliefs. (See "A Rallying Point", Christadelphian Advocate, October 1900, page 331)

Unfortunately, little has changed since that time other than the hardening of positions, and some Unamended brethren now find themselves reluctant to announce that they extend unqualified "open question" status to the topic of "third class" resurrection. To do so may, in effect, imply approval or acceptance of the belief that "light", and not the blood of the covenant, brings men forth from the grave, that rejecters will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged along with the household and, the promotion of the resurrection of the enlightened rejecter to a first principle of faith affecting fellowship.