A notable aspect of our relationship in Christ is our fellowship one with the other. It is really more than this, as the Apostle John says, “and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ”. There can be no relationship more blessed, more privileged, more holy, than this. In the Truth that special relationship is often felt when we travel from city to city, state to state or even country to country; wherever we go there is always a place to stay, a home from home. We hardly pause to appreciate, or hesitate to offer this kind of hospitality. Those of other denominations would not dare presume upon their fellows as we do. They are often amazed when they ask where we stay when we are away.

Why is all this so?

It is surely the Truth of God that makes our fellowship unique. There is depth and strength to our fellowship. It is founded upon conviction of the Truth of God, a deep and earnest belief of the things of the Kingdom and the things of the Name of salvation. In this we stand apart in a world of religious ignorance and indifference. The stronger that conviction and love of truth the stronger the bonds of this unique fellowship.

It began at Pentecost

When Peter completed his address, the urgent question was, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” and the answer came, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:37–38). Peter confirmed his witness and exhortation, after which 3000 people were baptised, which seems a remarkable number to us, and so it was, yet it was only a tiny remnant of the Jewish confluence that came to Jerusalem for Pentecost. Josephus records that close to two million came from all lands for Passover and about half stayed on for Pentecost, fifty days later. These may well have been the more zealous of the crowd. Yet even of them only 3000 went on to be baptised. The 3000 were in fact only a very small percentage of the vast assembly.

What was the distinguishing feature of these 3000? “They gladly received his word.” This people had come from synagogues all around the world but they had never heard such a “word” as this. It was the apostles’ word; it was the first public preaching of salvation in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord. It was unique and in a new name of salvation; there was now no other (Acts 4:12).

They continued steadfastly

We know the key verses so well that we may easily step over their fundamental importance. The newly baptised remnant zealously maintained “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship … breaking of bread and … prayers”.

The simplicity and purity of what they had heard and believed they staunchly upheld and their fellowship was based upon this pure apostolic gospel. That fellowship was especially focused upon their breaking of bread in accordance with the Last Supper the Lord Jesus had shared with his disciples before his death. Their fellowship would see them share many, many things together but the memorial meeting was the central activity of their fellowship, together with the communal prayers that went with it (Acts 2:43–47).

Let us note again that there were hundreds of thousands of other zealous, enthusiastic Jews in Jerusalem at that time but only 3000 believed what the apostles taught, only 3000 were baptised, only 3000 continued in the apostles’ fellowship. Specific teaching of truth was essential to be in this beautiful and wonderful fellowship. This is the pattern upon which the Christadelphian fellowship was founded: faithful stewardship means that we will wholly preserve its integrity.

What was “the apostles’ doctrine”?

The speech at Pentecost provides many elements of their teachings, greatly condensed as they are in Acts 2. A list of them would be like this:

  • Jesus of Nazareth was a man
  • he lived a divinely approved life
  • the Holy Spirit was given to him
  • his death was genuine and divinely arranged
  • he was crucified and slain
  • he was raised from the dead by God
  • his righteous life demanded his resurrection
  • Jesus has been elevated to the right hand of God
  • he will be there until he returns to make his enemies his footstool
  • so he is both Lord and Christ
  • this is God’s reward to an obedient Son
  • sinners need to repent of their sins
  • immersion in water is the path for God’s Forgiveness
  • the baptised believer must remain steadfast in the faith.
  • All these elements are obvious in the short summary of Peter’s speech in Acts 2:22–40 before we derive any obvious extrapolations from his words. From the other speeches of Peter and Paul we have other apostolic teachings.

3:13 Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham

3:18 Jesus’ first coming fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies

3:21 Jesus Christ will restore the kingdom of Israel as promised to king David

8:12 The gospel consists of the things of the Kingdom and the things of the Name of Jesus Christ

8:38 Baptism is by full immersion 10:42 Jesus Christ is to be judge of the living and the dead

13:39 It is our faith that justifies from all things. And so the list mounts as we go through the Acts and then the writings of the apostles of the Lord.

But who, what people, believe all these elements of apostolic witness today? It is a humbling experience to go through this process, incomplete as it is, for the answer is, only the Christadelphians. We would that all Christians held these truths but the evidence is to the contrary. Yet without dispute these are the truths which the apostles taught and these are the tenets of our Statement of Faith. Let us “not (be) highminded but (rather) fear” and be thankful that the God of truth has in His marvellous grace opened this treasure of truth and understanding to us despite our failings. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted. For thou art the glory of their strength” (Psa 89:15–17).

Apostasy – apostolic warnings

Privilege always brings responsibility. We cannot read far in Acts before the warnings come to us. Look at the bitter pressure upon Paul in his first missionary journey – 13:40–41,45–46,50; 14:2,4, 5,19. Hear his urgent appeal to the elders of Ephesus: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the ecclesia of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:28–30).

Remember his historic warning concerning “the man of sin”: “… for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2:3–4).

The Apostle Peter is no less fervent: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Pet 2:1–2).

Jude is compelling all through his short epistle: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3–4).

Then the aged Apostle John kept up the rallying cry to the end of the 1st century: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:18–19). And it was through his hands that the final words of the Lord Jesus were delivered, in the book of Revelation, which has many messages of warning and love to the saints of every age: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev 3:19).

There are more than a hundred specific warnings in the New Testament, encouraging the saints to hold on to the Truth, to preserve the brotherhood, and to keep the integrity of their fellowship. There can be no excuse for not being prepared for the challenges against the Truth, for the cry of God’s watchmen has been heard for centuries.

Yet the Truth was lost!

In the middle of the book of Revelation, in reference to the medieval years of Christianity, there are some awesome words for God’s people: “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (Rev 13:15–16). These words speak of the horror of the Catholic system when it reigned with dictatorial power. For several hundred years hardly a vestige of the faithful can be found. The little pieces of evidence do speak of a wonderfully faithful remnant desperately clinging on to the Truth in such a dark era. There was love between them, enormous faith before their God and an inextinguishable flame of truth in their hearts. They literally gave their lives because they would not recant or accept the fellowship of the cruel monster of Catholicism. Theirs was an intelligent yet closed fellowship. If either of these characteristics were absent they would soon have ceased to exist. For them it was belief in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship and prayers, and it was worth more than life itself to forfeit these values. Papal espionage was in every place and so the Truth and the fellowship in that Truth meant everything to them. The terror without distilled a grand faith within.

In our democratic, soft, ecumenical world the remembrance of this valiant minority is refreshing. Let us beware of the open arms of Ecumenism that is compromising and devoid of the valour for the Truth. We must protect our brotherhood with consistent principles of fellowship and ensure that our younger generation are well instructed in the whole counsel of God. Ecclesias need to hoist the flag of loyalty, truth and integrity to their mast and so provide comfort to older brothers and sisters who grew up in an age when these qualities were very evident in Christadelphia.

The ease of internet communications emphasises the need for this integrity. Ideas and theories fly around the world instantaneously. A light-hearted but ill-conceived comment spoken or written in jest can go from east to west in a moment. So also comments that reflect a disloyalty to God’s Truth or a lack of fidelity in our common fellowship. The speed and scope of the internet facilitate good or evil. ‘Conversation’ on its waves is not a separate place where we can disparage the Truth in any way, when on Sunday we are present as though loyal members. Nor can we hide behind passwords as some have done, and ridicule our Statement of Faith or other articles of faith loved and respected. Would we imagine that the cosmic world can be an open field to denigrate our brotherhood or inspire divisive and disloyal teaching and our Father not be aware of these actions? Such behaviour is appalling and lacks the integrity our fellowship deserves. We need to be honest in all our behaviour.

Other fellowships

We are ever pleased to hear of those who enjoy a common love of the Truth and have found a path to overcome their former separation. Yet in the sometimes lengthy path of such endeavour there is need for all to preserve the integrity of fellowship till the desired situation is clear and the vast majority can respond as one to the new fraternal situation. If this wise path is not followed the consequences may be worse than if nothing had been attempted.

The same principles apply in the lives of our young people. Away in other places, fellowship must be with those who are in our Central Fellowship who share the same Statement of Faith. Looseness in these circumstances leads to chaos. So while we respect those in other fellowships, we do not “break bread” with them.

“A noble tradition”

The following quotation is loved and respected by many and beautifully expresses our convictions:

“Today the Christadelphian community – ‘Brothers in Christ’ – is the inheritor of a noble tradition, by which elements of the Truth were from century to century hammered out on the anvil of controversy, affliction and even anguish. These pages may help us to appreciate a Bible doctrine that God does not establish truth by the counting of heads, but by the trying of hearts, and also to understand why we as Christadelphians today resist the outstretched hands of broad oecumenical unity, and consider as traitors any among us who sell their birthright for this cause” (The Protesters, page 8, 2nd paragraph, by Brother Alan Eyre).