“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” Ephesians 4:14,15

Our title, drawn from Ephesians 4, has its con-text in Paul’s discussion on the wonder of diversity in unity. The Jews had dropped the baton of God’s message and now, into the hands of grateful yet feeble Gentiles, was granted a pow­erful array of gifts. Assistance was to be provided in the areas of apostleship, prophecy, evangelising, pastoral work and teaching. With these tools they could commence their work of service—building up (edifying) the body of Christ.

These Gentile lightstands spread throughout the world were to consolidate and coalesce into the “body of Christ”. The destruction of the Jewish nation for an appointed time would not result in the disappearance of the Word of God. But while this building up process was incomplete, Paul could foresee danger. “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to de­ceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”

“Until the completed revelation was in the hands of the ecclesias there was much scope for the speculation of teachers who desired to introduce some new doctrine from the theories of the world without. The new ecclesias, apart from the guid­ance of the divinely instructed brethren, would have been at the mercy of every aspirant for

  •   “But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt 13:19–23).

The common thread for all four types of person is that they have heard the word—in fact, “the word of the kingdom”. What the parable highlights, is the response of each to the Gospel. The good ground (ie the others are not good) represents those who hear and understand and bear fruit having received the Word of God. It is hard then to see how any claim­ing to follow Christ could:

a. fail to understand that salvation is based on the important foundation of the “word of the kingdom”;

b. claim that a strong desire to understand the Word of God is legalistic or simply the legacy of the era before Christ;

c. deny that God’s expectation is that the natural outcome of having sowed seed is to see fruit appear. There is nothing contrived or unnatural in believing that the Word of God, rightly un­derstood, demands and evokes a response in the hearts and lives of men and women;

d. see the Word of God as anything but the very kernel and core of our spiritual being.

Examples of this theme throughout the Gospels leadership. The effect of unrestrained speculation is compared to the tossing of the sea, unstable and insecure, with danger of shipwreck…as Paul found it, so it has continued to be. The Scriptures have been perverted and mishandled in the inter­ests of opinions… ” (The Letter to the Ephesians, John Carter).

The cold, but influential winds of false doctrine could interrupt the process begun, described by Paul as one which “maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph 4:16).

It is unfortunate then, in our own time, that a simi­lar warning must be sounded. A chill wind, which has perhaps earlier only appeared as a breeze, has now blown its way into the lives of some brothers and sisters. It is an insidious influence—blowing fiercely against not only our fundamental beliefs, but also the very foundations upon which those doctrines stand. For the protection of our ecclesial family and for the saving of those being “carried about”, it is important that we consider these matters.

It is not in the scope of this article both to define in detail and answer all of the issues encompassed by this challenge—we are attempting an overview of the matter. But typical of this new thinking is:

  •  a view that Christadelphians run to an extreme with their interest in Scriptural understanding—it is possible to be saved by simply understanding the broad purpose of God and the goodness of His grace
  •  contemporary Christian writings have shed some light on the subject of grace and salvation which has been overlooked or misunderstood by the Christadelphian community
  •  a right understanding of the grace of God allows us to fellowship those from other churches—even though we might differ on certain, non-vital details (such as the nature of God, the nature of man, sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ)
  •  Christadelphians have failed to grasp the essence of grace, faith, works, salvation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer

Adoption of these ideas leads to a re-evaluation of, and change in many areas of our life: practice, doctrinal belief and emotional state.

Foundations

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock”—Mat­thew 7:25

It comes as a shock the first time a Christadel­phian questions the authority or “attention to detail” of Scripture. You might quickly point out that the Bible is full of precedents for giving close atten­tion to God’s Word: Cain’s rejected sacrifice; the fate of those who failed to enter into the Ark; Lot’s wife; the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath; Saul’s rejection from the kingship; and Uzzah’s well intentioned, but fatal violation of the Ark of the Covenant. The neglect of God’s Word ranges from partial to total, and springs from motives ranging from ignorance to wilful disobedience. One aspect remains constant however. The wrath of God is aroused when His clear instruction, even in points of detail, is disobeyed. It is not for man, forever helpless in his state of mortality, to redefine or ques­tion the intent and direct commandments of God.

These new ideas make an artificial distinction between the teaching and God of the Old and New Testaments. Examples include one current and popular Christian writing which describes God undergoing a learning process through the life of Jesus Christ. Apprised with this refreshing and sym­pathetic view of the human condition, God relaxed His demands upon men, and His requirements for obedience to His commandments. This relaxation is bound up in their understanding and definition of “grace”.

But can evidence of a new casualness in ap­proaching God be found in the New Testament, particularly in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Consider the parable of the sower. Four types of soil are described, three of which are evidently unacceptable to God. So what is the key problem in each case?

  •  “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side
  • “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in him­self, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended
  •  “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful                                                                                                                                                  

 and the rest of the New Testament are numerous. In the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Jesus tells of the two approaches to building a house—and the founda­tion that is required. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand…” Again the empha­sis is on hearing. It is a combination of hearing and doing that combine to provide a solid foundation for our life in Christ. These words exhort us to absorb and understand the Word of God, to create in us an assurance that we are building on solid rock, and not on the wind-driven, shifting sands.

Fundamentals

One charge that has been raised is that parts of the Christadelphian community have been overly nega­tive, and this has resulted in a lack of appreciation of God’s grace. For various reasons, it may be that there are brethren and sisters who feel unsure in this area, or perhaps have gained only a limited grasp of the subject without capturing the vast wonder of God’s grace. If so, that should be addressed. But it is not valid to override the plain teaching of Scripture by narrowly focusing on one (magnificent though it is) aspect of the character of God.

The central principle offered by those who have adopted this distorted view of God’s grace, as sum­marised in one Christian writing, is that “nothing we can do can make God love us more, nothing we can do can make God love us less”. Paul in Romans questions those who directly or indirectly consider that they can sin “that grace may abound”. God forbids it. He demands that we labour to build on a sure foundation.

It has been noted in the various new writings on the subject of grace, that a subtle but false notion has been introduced. Grace is presented as a contrast to morality. Examples of showing grace are often compared to those anxiously (and usually harshly) endeavouring to uphold certain Godly behaviours or attitudes in their community. This is an artificial and evil distinction—our God is love and grace, and at the same time a consuming fire. There is no contradiction in His character, though we might often struggle in finding the balance in mixing these character attributes in our own lives.

Faith and works is another pair that is presented as being items at opposing ends of the spectrum. It is said that Christadelphians, whether consciously or otherwise, believe in salvation by works. Such a view is plainly unscriptural. The customs and ex­tremism of the Pharisees and legalists are regularly criticised in Scripture. Equally, a “belief” in the words of Scripture, in an academic sense, without having the heart touched or the character changed is a rejection of the two parables discussed earlier. We are exhorted to hear, understand and bear fruit. Scripture refers to works of the flesh; evil works; works of the law; and good works. It is these last works that should be part of our walk and are part of the building of our faith and growing in our relationship with our Father.

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salva­tion with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”—Philippians 2:12,13.

How do we work out our own salvation? What is the connection between work and salvation? The message is completed in the thirteenth verse: “for it is God which worketh in you”. Rather than avoiding or despising works, or seeing works and faith as being in conflict, Scripture offers a challenge. The challenge is to increase in good works, springing from our faith, knowing always that every true and good work is really “God working”.

A by-product of these new ideas is a reappraisal of the subjects of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit Gifts. It should be stated that these changes arise out of the initial error. They are not the central issue. For instance, some believe that it is appropriate to break bread with those claiming to have possession of the Holy Spirit, even though they might not hold that belief themselves. In such a case, disproving Holy Spirit possession does not address the root problem.

Acceptance and even belief of these widely-accepted Christian views is a doctrinal shift which is a direct result of their foundations being moved.

Points to Consider

At a recent meeting of Sydney Arranging Brethren the importance of public lectures was emphasised.

Due to circumstances and ecclesial size, in some places lectures have been discontinued or are poorly attended. Even though at times they may not be well supported by the public, they provide our ecclesias and children with a regular and consist­ent reminder of the Biblical teachings we are so privileged to share. The Bible Reading seminars have brought to our attention the profound lack of Biblical knowledge in the mainstream community. This would indicate that greater efforts should be made in presenting lecture topics to ensure they are accessible to all members of the public. However that is another matter. Our point is that lectures provide a doctrinal teaching platform for Chris­tadelphians and young people that is not always directly available through an exhortation or Bible class. Repetition of key doctrines with the attendant proofs from God’s Word is the most effective means of communicating the great themes of Scripture and lodging them solidly in the mind.

A related point is the vital importance of daily readings. Regularity of reading produces an ap­preciation for the revealed mind of God, and of His desired relationship and expectation of men. It is hard to see how these new ideas, which cut across the plain, Biblical message, would be entertained by those who read the Word of God daily. For instance, even a basic understanding of the Law of Moses, Daniel and Revelation reminds us of the abhorrence God has of any association between His people and the dominant systems of false religion.

Conclusion

It is the purpose of this article to sound an alarm, without being alarmist. In some places brethren and sisters whom we love dearly have either turned aside from the Truth or have been disfellowshipped for doing so. It is not good enough for us merely to accept this tragedy—we have a duty to protect all of our ecclesial family, and to search energetically for those who are lost. While challenges to the Truth in these latter days are not unexpected (2 Tim 3) it is nonetheless, a sad and trying experience when they arrive.

We have briefly touched on a number of topics, which will be explored in depth by other brethren in following articles.

Every wind of doctrine continues to blow all around us—outside, and sometimes inside our ec­clesias. But we are not powerless in the face of such discouraging change; nor do we despair at our own weakness. Standing in the midst of the lampstands is one who holds the power of life and death. It is YAHWEH’s purpose and Christ’s work —we are those called to observe His grace, believe His Word, hope in His Kingdom, love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and patiently continue in well doing.

“And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matthew 8:26,27)