In the year 1894 the North London ecclesia was the centre of a doctrinal controversy that not only split that meeting but had ramifications in the Brotherhood at large. In the United Kingdom, the United States and, to a lesser extent, other regions of the Brotherhood, the concepts of this tragic controversy were supported with such vehemence that separate fellowships formed, not overly significant in most regions but tragically so in North America. In 1904 the Advocate Fellowship (more generally now called the Unamended Fellowship) was formed and to this day several thousand Christadelphians belong to this fellowship, despite many attempts to unite these brethren and sisters with those of Central Fellowship. Today a large percent of the Unamended community do not support the teachings of Brother Andrew but it is still the official position of this community and there are many ardent and vocal members who believe and teach many of the same things as Brother Andrew did in 1894.

What did JJ Andrew teach?

The law of Genesis 2:17 said, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

From this verse developed the following line of thought:

  1. This sentence meant that they would die immediately upon the trespass – on that very day.
  2. This must mean a violent death – and this death, he taught, would be an eternal death, a perishing.
  3. But this violent and eternal death was not enacted when they sinned; the slaying of the animal averted it.
  4. Further, this sentence was passed down to all their descendants, who when born have this sentence of a violent, eternal death threatening over them and alienating them from God.
  5. This inherited sentence of eternal death was given the name “Adamic Condemnation” (even though with the passing of years many other definitions would be given to this phrase).
  6. The result of the transgression was a lust for sin and this lust is “sin-in-the-flesh” or “physical sin”.
  7. Thus sin has two forms, moral and physical, and atonement by the blood of the everlasting covenant is required to take away the one as well as the other.
  8. The descendants of Adam were in his loins and therefore all men are liable as soon as they are born to be cut off by death, condemned by God because of the offence of Adam.
  9. They are therefore born or made “sinners” without any exercise of will on their part.
  10. Therefore all men are liable as soon as they are born to be cut off by death, condemned by God because of the offence of Adam.
  11. Sacrifice is as essential to take away sin in its physical, as in its moral aspect; a violent death is the punishment due to the one as well as the other; and physical sin is as powerful to keep closed the gates of the grave as is actual transgression.
  12. Baptism into Christ provided justification before God from physical sin as well as from enacted sin.
  13. Baptism opened the gates of the grave or their possibility of being opened. There was no possibility of a resurrection from the dead without this justification from Adam’s offence that now was in our flesh, this legal sentence of violent death somehow born in our flesh.
  14. The result of this path of thought is that noone unbaptised could ever be raised from death to appear at the judgment seat of Christ. God was bound by His own rule not to raise any other than those baptised (or, in Old Testament times, those circumcised). So the unbaptised would never stand before the judgement seat of Christ, no matter how much they knew about the Gospel. Enlightened rejecters may be punished in this life but after death they are untouchable.

A verbal maze

It is not hard to sympathise with the reader who seeks to comprehend this theological jungle with some bewilderment. Many questions come to mind and the connection of sense in the argument doesn’t seem to be there: there are bridges missing in the rationale. And above all it doesn’t sound like the Scriptures. One keeps on thinking “where does all this come from”? Here we are talking about the principles of salvation and the echo of relevant Scripture passages is just not there. The Roman Catholic Church have since the days of Augustine in the 4th century preached the doctrine of original sin, which meant that every human comes into the world bearing the guilt of the original sin of Adam and Eve. It was Augustine’s way to explain the death of infants, who had done neither good nor evil, yet had died. Is not the above properly described as a teaching of “original sin”? There is a personal sentence of condemnation that comes to us because of Adam’s transgression, which alienates us from God and for which we need “justification” or atonement. The fourteen points above are almost exact quotations from The Blood of the Covenant, the first book published by Brother JJ Andrew in 1894. He repeatedly affirms the necessity of justification from the offence of Adam. “This would be impossible without justification from the offence of Adam… Their probationary good works are as useless to justify from the offence of Adam as from their own offences before or after baptism” (p58, five times on this single page). Where does the Word of God teach this?

Brother Andrew’s book goes on for 60 pages of material like the above till the whole subject sounds like a complicated machine of verbal physics. Here was a system of justification where faith is barely heard and the love of God obscured behind the pedantic philosophies of men.

A word from Brother John Carter

We should pause just now to comprehend how thankful we must be to have a Unity Basis that is so free from the contortions above. On pages 70 and 71 of the Unity Book, Brother Carter provides some summary comments on this teaching:

“That these ideas were resisted at the time they were advanced is abundantly evident from the discussions in The Christadelphian in the 1890s.

We believe they are far removed from the plain truth of Scripture, which can be expressed in terms the simplest can understand, whereas contentions along the lines of these extracts, while sometimes having a show of logic, lead to strife about legal abstractions. Those who pursue them live in a fantasy world of words.

“As Brother Collyer said in the article we reproduced last month: ‘Earnest brethren and sisters, anxious to hold the truth, have sometimes been perplexed and almost distracted in the strife of words, beyond their power to understand. The havoc that such strife may cause is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that one of the most capable men we ever had among us, in his efforts for legal logic, ended by teaching justification for sin without faith, and we were all slow to realise the full enormity of the position. I well remember the surprise and even consternation of one of his supporters when he was first shown this feature of the case.’

‘That men are objects of divine anger because they are flesh’, was described by Brother Collyer sixty years ago as the most outrageous statement made in the controversy on Adamic condemnation. To that we subscribe. These contentions have also embittered and estranged brethren who could find harmony and co-operation by accepting the facts of Scripture testimony. But when legalistic minds insist on pursuing these mystifying tracks, and condemning all who will not follow them, we can only let them go their own way while we seek the sound paths of Scripture truth.”

How could such a theory arise?

At first the line of teaching seems to arise from his understanding of Genesis 2:17, the sentence that would come upon Adam if he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. In the av it sounds as though man would die on the very day that he partook; and if so wouldn’t that require a violent death? Much that follows is based on this thought. The marginal rendering is “dying thou shalt die”, following an idiom of the Hebrew. This same idiom is used in the previous verse in connection with eating, where the av margin gives “eating thou shalt eat”. The idiom is one of certainty, of Divine surety. Just as God was certainly giving Adam fruit from the other trees of the garden, so if he partook of the forbidden fruit he would surely die. The av has the exact sense and that is made plain in the very next chapter, when Adam and Eve having illegally eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, were cursed with death: “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.” This is the obvious fulfilment of 2:17 and there is no hint of a violent perishing of Adam. It seems so plain one wonders how it could be so misunderstood.

In truth this was not where the problem arose. Every parent in the Truth wants the best for their children and if their son (or daughter) was not baptised when obviously he had been long enlightened in the faith of Christ they would be apprehensive of his standing before Christ in the day of judgement (John 3:18–19;15:22) This was the circumstance in North London in 1894 and even before the new path of thinking arose: sister Andrew was advocating the idea that unless one was baptised then he could not be raised (and if not raised, then he would not, could not, be judged). So if the sentence of God in Genesis 2:17 was an inherited sentence of perishing and only baptism could provide a key to avert this death, then those not baptised could not be raised for they had perished eternally. Not even God could raise them because it would be against His very laws to do so! Note that at the root of this reasoning lies this violent death theory, an eternal death to perish.

What strange things can arise when our own feelings for family are super-imposed upon the simple principles of the Truth. Who could ever have imagined that this legalistic concept of sin and atonement could have spread to other continents and resulted in a division of our Brotherhood that has lasted for more than a hundred years, despite unsparing efforts to mend it. The lesson here must also be to beware of heresies, to think very hard before we dare spin new teachings among the flock and to react and answer early when the matter is only small. Such readiness of mind needs committed students in the principles of Truth, loyalty to the Truth and a willingness to defend it.

What was said of Christ?

If then an inherited alienation was the lot of all Adam’s descendants, one is curious to know what did Brother Andrew teach concerning Christ’s relationship to his Father and how was he related to his own death seeing he was the Son of God and without sin, even though he partook of the nature common to man.

Christ is portrayed by Brother Andrew as a sinner by inheritance even though he did no sin. Brother Andrew believed that Jesus shared in the condemnation upon Adam’s race, bearing also the threat of God’s sentence of a violent and eternal death due to Adam’s offence. Hence he argued that Jesus was in need of “justification” before his Father, for the wrath of God was upon all that were born of sinful flesh. Circumcision was seen “as the first act of justification of which Jesus partook. Its effect was to transfer him from the state of ‘condemnation’ to death, under which he was born, into the condition described as being ‘alive’” (Rom 7:9).

In a similar manner John Andrew wrote in the Blood of the Covenant that “Jesus required atonement for a like reason and for the same object as the Tabernacle. The reason was physical defilement, and the object, to provide a fit dwelling place for Jehovah.” Circumcision gave him “the benefit of a justification from inherited sin from his earliest days”.

Brother Andrew then introduced a second form  of justification for Jesus – his baptism at the hands of John. He said, “The ceremony which cleansed the Jews who were baptised of John in Jordan from moral defilement, was equally efficacious in cleansing Jesus from his physical defilement” (Blood of the Covenant, p24).

Brotehr Andrew argued, however, that these two justifications or atonements were both only temporary, until ratified by the death of Christ as a sacrifice.

So while he was the spotless Lamb of God, and had no transgression to atone for, yet we are told by Brother Andrew that he went through three justifications for the nature he bore, because “to be justified in God’s sight is impossible for anyone inheriting the sin-nature which must be covered by blood-shedding before a man can do anything relating to a future life, acceptable to God.” It is hard to believe that a brother ever wrote such words.

Did not his sinless probation mean something to his justification? “Christ’s probation is the most faithful on record and yet his faith could not cleanse him from Adamic sin without bloodshedding” (Blood of the Covenant p58). Was there not a grand power in his sinlessness, was there not the greatest victory in his life and in his death, in defeating King Sin in his own realm. It is not his indebtedness, his need of expiation, his failure of justification that we see and read of in Scripture but rather his triumph. He “bound the strong man”, “overcame”, “destroyed the diabolos”, “slew the enmity”, “became obedient unto death” – these are the expressions of Scripture (Mark 3:27; Rev 3:21; Heb 2:14, Eph 2:16; Phil 2:8 etc).

What a vast gulf lies between this picture and the ashamed and alienated Christ as he was upon the tree, that Brother Andrew presented…

“Having lost through the ‘curse of the law’ the covering for sin provided by circumcision and baptism, he was now, in relation to the Edenic and Mosaic laws, in an unjustified condition; he was physically as unclean as he was between birth and circumcision; and the nakedness apparent to the human eye was a counterpart of his nakedness in the sight of God. Although he possessed a record of a blameless life he could derive no benefit therefrom until his naked condition had been covered by the shedding of his blood” (Blood of the Covenant p26).

Lost in legalism

The tragedy of being lost in words of theological legalism was never so profoundly portrayed. Brother Andrew published a magazine in 1894 and in Volume 1, Number 3, in an emotional, almost jeering response to dear Brother Roberts, he wrote the following:

“But if his death is for our personal sins only is it not substitutionary? If there is no reason in him why he must die, and if he must die only for us then substitution is the only thing in the case. Must he die for himself? ‘Yes’, must be your answer now as well as twenty years ago. Now we are close to the point. He must: yes, he must die for himself for  some reason? What reason? What reason? Not for his personal sins, for he never committed a single  one. He must die according to God’s law. To die according to law is legal; and to die legally is to be  ‘worthy’ of death in the legal sense. He was not  ‘worthy’ of death legally for any personal sin of His own. What sin was it, then, that made the death of  Christ just? Now we have it right here. What sin was it that made the death of Christ just? Racial sin or personal sin? Federal sin or individual sin? Racial and federal is the only answer the case will admit of; and that is to say that primarily Christ died to redeem himself from the sin and its effect that was committed by Adam, ‘in whom all – Christ  included – have sinned’” (The Sanctuary Keeper,  p85).

The warning to us all

It is doubtful if anyone in Central Fellowship would accept these views today. Yet strains of his mind are about from time to time, so we cannot rest from our vigilance. In some other fellowships the main ideas of Brother Andrew are still promulgated. It is surely our wisdom to teach our ecclesias and our children the truth of Christ crucified, to know of his human nature, to glory in his obedience over it, to behold the righteousness of God upheld, to want to emulate our glorious Saviour and to sing of the love of our God in providing His beloved Son. “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal 1:3–4).