“God has no grandchildren”

This saying emphasises the need for every generation to respond to the calling of God in Christ. None of us can inherit our religion, but we can and do benefit from those who have gone before us, both from a biblical perspective and more recently from brothers and sisters who laboured to establish the Truth in Australasia.

The purpose of this series of articles is to briefly document the ways in which the Gospel of the Kingdom came to these islands, and along the way, to highlight important lessons and examples that we should heed.

Brother John Thomas

The baptism of Brother John Thomas in 1847 precipitated a series of significant events:

  • In 1848 he travelled from the USA to Britain to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom in the country of his birth.
  • He wrote Elpis Israel in 1849 in response to a request for a book containing the substance of his public addresses.
  • The Gospel of the Kingdom took root in Britain firstly in Scotland, then England and Wales.
  • From 1848 emigrants from the United Kingdom to Australia and New Zealand took with them this new-found knowledge.

The term ‘Gospel of the Kingdom’ is used to distinguish the teaching of Brother John Thomas and those who came after him, from that of the majority of Christian denominations. In the 19th century, the belief that Jesus Christ would return and set up the Kingdom on earth was almost universally ridiculed by Christians.

Australasia in the 1850s and ‘60s

Migration to Australia and New Zealand from Britain and elsewhere in the 1850s and ‘60s was driven largely by economic factors, both at home and overseas.

“The discovery of gold, beginning in 1851 first near Bathurst in New South Wales and then in the newly formed colony of Victoria, transformed Australia economically, politically, and demographically. The gold rushes occurred hard on the heels of a major worldwide economic depression. As a result, about two per cent of the population of the British Isles emigrated to New South Wales and Victoria during the 1850s.” Wikipedia

In fact, approximately 500,000 people migrated to Australia in the 1850s.

The economy in Australasia was not always robust and some brethren needed to travel to find work. One brother in Sydney in 1872 noted that:

“People in the colonies are, as a rule, ever on the move. Those who are immersed are no exception, and usually move to another part shortly after their obedience. This he thinks an obstacle to progress, but consoles himself with the idea that it may be for the best in promoting the spread of the truth.” The Christadelphian magazine, 1872, page 498

Progress towards Unity

Some early immigrants to Australasia had only a partial or brief exposure to the Gospel of the Kingdom, and some discovered later that they needed to be re-immersed.

It has been claimed by a few that our early brethren tolerated a “diversity of opinions” and an “experimental debatability of issues.” This demonstrably is not the case. In Brother Thomas’ lifetime (1805-1871) he frequently published lists of his beliefs, including Elpis Israel, and opposed those who promoted or tolerated false ideas.

Even William Norrie, who was not sympathetic to Robert Roberts, acknowledged the danger of tolerating error:

“…at a very early period, ‘a little leaven’ was introduced into the Edinburgh Church. The leavening process went on for years, ultimately the whole mass became so permeated, that, in 1894, it was agreed to receive persons whose pre-baptismal knowledge did not include the things of the kingdom and the name — only two persons dissenting. Eight years later (with two dozen dissenters) the Gospel of the Kingdom was discarded as pre-baptismal faith, and the communion made ‘free to all baptised persons holding the common faith of Christendom!’ How are the mighty fallen.” Early History of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in Britain, 1904, Volume 1, page 244

The publication of Twelve Lectures in 1862 (expanded to eighteen chapters in 1884 and renamed Christendom Astray), had a dramatic impact worldwide, and has been, perhaps, the single most influential publication of the Gospel message in our history.

The Gospel of the Kingdom in Australasia

As far as I have been able to ascertain, the Gospel took root in the following years at the places listed:

  1. 1849 – Victoria
  2. 1852 – New Zealand
  3. 1861 – Queensland
  4. 1864 – New South Wales
  5. 1870 – Tasmania
  6. 1882 – South Australia
  7. 1887 – Western Australia
  8. 1927 – The Australian Capital Territory (established in 1911)
  9. 1959 – The Northern Territory (established in 1911)

Sources

The material for these articles comes from Christadelphian publications such as The Christadelphian, The Shield, ecclesial publications, individual brethren’s research and my personal research.

It must be said that the picture is not complete, particularly for the early years. In some instances, available records refer to brethren leaving a city but do not mention when they had settled there earlier.

If readers can supplement the material published here, I would appreciate receiving it so that, as nearly as possible, a complete record is preserved for anyone to access.