The need has always existed for well-versed brethren to be familiar with a wide range of Scripture and to be able to apply them to the circumstance of the moment. The apostle Paul speaks of the need for these mature brethren when he observed to the ecclesia in Corinth, “Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers” (1 Cor 4: 15). Likewise, in respect to “understanding” he called upon the brethren to be men of maturity, rightly dividing the word of Truth (1 Cor 14:20; 2 Tim 2: 15). Our articles in this issue well illustrate how indebted we are to have brethren amongst us who have, and do, guide the ecclesias with wise counsel, words carefully chosen and sincerely imparted, coming as they do from the refining process of long ecclesial experience.

“As With a Drawn Sword”

In our Heritage article it is quite remarkable that Brother Roberts should choose, as parting advice to the Birmingham Tea Meeting prior to his second voyage to Australia, two exhortations for their continuance in the Faith. In summary he firstly advocated, that they “stick close to the Scriptures in daily methodical reading” and secondly, that their present well-being as a community depended upon vigilance against “back-biting”. His words are particularly stern. “Nothing”, he said, “would sooner chill and disaffect them one from another than the habit so common among men of repeating evil rumours or indulging in personal criticism, or making charges on hearsay.” He reminded them that at ecclesial management meetings, he had for over thirty years insisted on this rule. He “implored them to stand as with a drawn sword over this principle”! How true and how essential for ecclesial harmony is this advice of over 100 years ago! Do our arranging brethren and committee brethren “stand as with a drawn sword” over this principle? Cases of inter-ecclesial gossip and slander should evoke in us a sense of alarm and determination to ensure that, as far as possible, we will revive the strong commitment to this principle at all levels of brotherly discourse, as with a drawn sword!

“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14: 40), an injunction perhaps no better illustrated than in that little work by Brother Roberts, the Ecclesial Guide. Written 120 years ago, this little booklet has proved to be amazingly appropriate to every subsequent generation. It has never failed to safely guide brethren in the forming of new ecclesias and in maintaining the “mode of conducting the meetings”, even in a modern world. Brother Michael Ashtonʼs review well illustrates the timeless nature of its advice, simply yet adequately answering the needs of a world-wide brotherhood and creating a unique sense of fellowship. Expressions like “ecclesias” and “serving brethren” have passed into Christadelphian vernacular but owe their origin to this little work. Again, how indebted should we be to our far-sighted brethren who have formulated Christadelphian practices upon such a sound foundation. These are time-tested protocols for ecclesial harmony and mutual love and respect, disregarded at our peril.

The Lord who walks amongst the lampstands is very aware of the qualities of his serving brethren who best take heed to the needs of the ecclesias by themselves living lives consistent with the Word. This necessarily entails a discernment between holy things and things profane. It is only by a searching of the Scriptures that we can “exercise diligent introspection to determine the degree of purity and separation they have allowed (or attained) in their lives”. It is very easy to be drawn away from the “simplicity which is in Christ”, and compromise the divine edict of total separation from all things worldly. It is this personal holiness and genuine love of the brethren that has so endeared our serving brethren to us. Many ecclesias can testify to being God-blessed to have had brethren labouring long in their midst who could bear examination at home just as much as they could publicly. This personal integrity and consistency of conduct has characterised Bible men and women of the past and is so welcome in ecclesias today. The pattern was well set when Moses, acting upon Jethroʼs advice, appointed judges in Israel who were “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Exodus 18: 21,22). What a solemn duty they performed in matters of judgment on Yahwehʼs behalf. Yet that was to be reflected with the same diligence and gravity in their homes where a godly seed might be well guided in the practical daily issues of “following hard after Yahweh”. Therefore, in taking heed to the ecclesias, brethren and sisters will not neglect their own family responsibilities and ensure that they are doing all they can to have their children “walking in Truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father” (2 John 4). There must be then an attention to the spiritual tone of our meetings and a concern that the next generation, given the opportunity, might “set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Psa 78: 7).