No worthwhile enterprise will succeed unless the conditions under which it is developed are appropriate. One of the most important factors in establishing unity amongst brethren is the fostering and development of mutual trust and goodwill. Without this the best documents, the greatest oratory or the most well reasoned arguments will be fruitless.

And the right conditions to create this had already been forged – not in Australia, but in England. There had been many private talks between Brethren Cyril Cooper and John Carter. Coming from two separate fellowships (‘Suffolk Street’ and ‘Central’) their mutual understanding and trust permitted their private meetings to expand and prosper on the broader platforms of representative committees. Prosper they did and the result was a precious unity achieved in Great Britain in 1956. Would the brotherhood in Australia be likewise blessed with a united walk?

Even before this time, Brother Carter had presided over re-union meetings in North America (Jersey City) that resulted in ecclesias in the Central Fellowship and Berean Fellowships becoming united.

Clearly, there was wisdom in drawing on the experience of Brethren Cooper and Carter in the invitation given them to write a joint letter to the Adelaide Conference in April 1956.

Their letter[1] was an appeal couched in Scriptural principle and plain language to which was attached a clear explanation of clauses 5 and 12 of the BASF that has come to bear their names (known as the Cooper-Carter Addendum). Although only four words of Scripture are directly cited, the entire statement is saturated with Biblical ideas.

The letter that preceded it was no different. It was an appeal to show “temperateness… candour… (and) fairness” in all our discussions. Since it is incumbent on us all “to seek to promote[2] unity” a genuine effort should be made to understand the position of those separated from us.

Revival of the Truth

Listening to the letter being read to them, the brethren and sisters at the Adelaide Conference were reminded of the revival of the Truth through the agency of Dr Thomas and of the significant responsibility that rests with all followers of the Truth – to “guard the deposit”. Weymouth’s translation reads: “That precious treasure which is in your charge, guard …” (2 Tim 1:14). As with a banker, the deposit was held in trust.

The need for a Statement of Faith

Although a truism, to state that the Bible alone is our definition of Truth is not to express what we, as Christadelphians, understand to be the clear teaching of the Word of God. The Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF) is the most widely known and recognised expression of the beliefs embraced by brethren in the Central Fellowship. To demean the Statement as ‘manmade’ would be a refusal to give account of the distinctive beliefs that set our community apart from the sects of Christendom. The use of the BASF has defined what we believe, and is at the same time an indicator of the unity of spirit that has energised our body.

Common belief – mutual responsibilities

Discord and unity are mutually exclusive. Brethren Cooper and Carter advanced the Scriptural and logical position that it would be inconsistent with a whole-hearted belief in Truth to retain in fellowship those who refused to embrace the same teachings and practices. Although ecclesias will rightly insist on autonomy of operation and judging of issues within their own membership, there is a mutual responsibility as part of the one body of Christ to ensure that the light that shines is not obscured by vain speculations. Moreover, there needed to be a willingness to take decisive action in the spirit of Christ when all appeals had failed. This assures a true organic unity based on mutual acceptance of truth.

On more than one occasion in their letter, the English brethren drew attention to the responsibility of upholding the Truth and appealed to their Australian brethren to act against those who taught error. “Purge out… the old leaven” (1 Cor 5:7), was the advice. It is always a sad occasion when the time comes to do this, but we have a duty of removing from our midst those who create discord and division.

A caution

“In pursuing this thought”, wrote the brethren, “we would make it clear that we should not ‘make a man an offender for a word’. We would eschew slick labels which are easily used but often do not truly define. We must distinguish between true principles and uncertain details. Clichés of speech are full of dangers, as are also figures of speech pressed into the moulds of literal definitions. Wild charges exacerbate feelings and hinder understanding.” That advice was taken on board by the committees charged with moving forward with the process of unity.

Promoting oneness

It was noted, however, that many may be separated as the result of following teachers who have been in error or whose “speech and behaviour” gave that impression. Every effort should be made to remove hindrances and stumbling blocks from those who do really share the one faith but are separated through no fault of their own.

In undergirding our vessel, then, we aim to keep all parties intact, both the ship (the brotherhood) and those brethren and sisters who rely on its protection upon the stormy seas.

Prayers for unity had been answered and now, fifty years later, we enjoy and cherish its fruit.

References

[1] See Unity Book, pages 8–12

[2] emphasis ours