The following Editorial by Brother John Carter appeared in “The Christadelphian” (Volume 93), 1956. It deals with the seizure of the Suez Canal by Colonel Nasser and his disregard for international treaties governing its ownership and administration. His actions were to provoke retaliation by France and the UK. In conjunction with Israel they invaded the Sinai Peninsula and provoked a crisis threatening involvement of the then two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union. In a rare, unified action these powers issued an ultimatum calling for withdrawal from the peninsula. So here there is an illustration of how flagrant disdain for mutually agreed law can lead to even greater crises.
The latter part of the Editorial relates this matter to ecclesias and the self-government and self-determination that have played a significant role in preserving the Truth in the latter days. The point is well made that there are limits to autonomy and that ecclesias are knit together by a common statement of faith—in the Central fellowship, the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith. Assent to this basis entails the responsibility of upholding the doctrines set forth and of taking appropriate action where this is not the case.
In the realm of intra-ecclesial activity, what is done must be that agreed upon by the majority. Any other “rule” or mode of action is fraught with peril and will result in strife and contention. This rule has support from Scripture, for we read that in the case of withdrawal from the brother in Corinth, the decision to do so was “inflicted of many”, or the majority (2 Cor 2:6).
Observance of these wise and equitable rules have and do provide a basis for ecclesial harmony and peace, as the following article demonstrates.

THE action of the Egyptian dictator in nationalizing the Suez Canal without even consulting those who own and are responsible for the service of the Canal, has raised the question of the limits of national rights. The right of self-determination has in this century brought several new nations into being. It is part of the paradox of the international situation that at a time when every interest calls for closer integration of every section of mankind, the new nations, intoxicated by a sense of freedom, are claiming independent rights with consequent disruption of international arrangements.

There must be an accepted limitation to independent action if nations are to live together in an ordered world. Much is taken for granted until some dictator takes a unilateral action in defiance of the claims of other groups and nations. An effort has been made in the modern world to build up a body of international law which will guide nations in their mutual relationships. Conflict often arises from the clash of interests between one nation and other nations, when the individual object is pursued in defiance of duty to others. The very words used sometimes foster wrong ideas. Dictators like to use terms such as sovereign States and sovereign rights—language which is very gratifying to the ears of members of young nations. There is, however, a danger in the very use of such language. It has been pointed out that “if sovereignty means absolute power, and if States are sovereign in that sense, they cannot at the same time be subject to law . . . If the premises are correct there is no escape from the conclusion that international law is nothing but a delusion” (The Law of Nations, by Prof. Brierly; quoted in a letter to The Times, Aug. 11, 1956). The dictator’s claim to absolute sovereignty creates an atmosphere where international problems cannot be considered calmly and judicially.

As with sovereignty, thus restricted by law, so with territorial possession. The present Judge of the International Court of Justice (Sir Hirsch Lauterpacht, Q.C.) has said, “Like independence, territorial supremacy does not give an unlimited liberty of action”. There are several types of limitation, and “there is hardly a state in existence which is not in one point or another restricted in its territorial supremacy by treaties with other States”. A nation, for example, has not the right to divert the flow of a river which goes through the territory of another nation: both have claims upon the water supply.

Actions like that of Col. Nasser in nationalizing the Suez Canal Company ignore international responsibilities and obligations which should be settled by discussion and agreement.

But what are rights? And who has rights? The loud sounding claims of arrogant men become small when dust claims its own. Where there is a conflict of interests, who can decide with justice what is right? If a river is the lifeblood of two nations and is not adequate for the needs of both, how can settlement be reached when hungry stomachs claim their fill? If a nation has occupied a land for ten generations, has an indefeasible right to it been established? If one nation grows in numbers while another declines, who shall adjust their source of life in land or food or commerce? And if all men have rights to food, can Western nations always claim as their right the modern standards of life they have established if those standards can only be maintained by the Eastern half of the world living below a reasonable subsistence level? The answers from East and West cannot be expected to coincide.

The need is evident. The earth is the Lord’s and men have forgotten it. Man misuses God’s earth: and appears in fact incapable of rightly using it to satisfy the claims and needs of all. Only by God administering with His own wisdom and power the gifts He provides can justice and equity prevail.

The interest in the lawful restrictions arising out of the needs of nations living together created by the action of the Egyptian dictator is not without its lessons to the ecclesial world. An ecclesia must have its rules to do things decently and orderly. The rules must be accepted and observed by all members, and the rules must be sanctioned by whatever majority may be agreed upon. But just as an individual accepts a limitation upon his own freedom as a basis of brotherly co-operation, so in inter-ecclesial arrangements there must be mutual respect for each other’s judgments. If an individual disregards the approved standards he cannot complain at disciplinary action. A brother may prefer that the order of service be hymn, prayer, reading; but if the ecclesia decides it be hymn, reading, prayer, all presidents must conform. If one insisted on his own way in opposition to the general decision, he cannot complain if he be deprived of office. If he cannot accept the first principles of doctrine agreed upon, he cannot expect to retain his membership. The same principles hold good as between ecclesias. As a community we have encouraged the idea of ecclesial autonomy; rightly so, we believe. A central governing body would destroy the responsibility which individuals and ecclesias sustain to God. At the same time, like most ideas, it can be pressed too far. Ecclesias have certain mutual responsibilities as parts of the “body” of Christ.