It is now forty years since the labours of Brother John Carter culminated in bringing widespread unity and therefore fellowship between ecclesias in this country. Sadly there is a generation now that does not fully appreciate the value of that work today. It was in the years 1956–58 that Brother Carter, the editor of The Christadelphian, became intimately involved in the fellowship difficulties in Australia. It was through the efforts of a group of brethren, mainly from Melbourne and Sydney, that it was determined to endeavour to resolve the difficulties that had prevailed in Australia for well near half a century. The root of the problem centred upon the subject of the Atonement and therefore Brother Carter’s assistance was sought in the clarification of the “Central” Christadelphian understanding and teaching on this subject.

Those who have read The Diary of a Voyage, which gives the details of the visit of Brother Roberts to Australia in 1896, will readily recall that he was continually questioned regarding the entry of sin into the world, its effects upon Adam and his seed, and the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should recall that the main topic of The Christadelphian for that time (1894–96) had centred on the subject of the Atonement, answering in particular the errors that Brother J J Andrew had laid as a foundation for his views relating to “Resurrectional Responsibility”. Extremes had begotten extremes and there were those who were propounding the false views of the “Clean Flesh” theories that had been answered in the 70’s, but Brother Roberts again found himself answering them here in Australia.

In the early 1900’s The Shield Magazine commenced in Australia (from the suggestion of Brother Roberts, it appears) and this magazine became representative of the majority of ecclesias in Australia. Most ecclesias placed their intelligence therein. However, writers in this magazine propounded views that were contrary to the clear teaching of the BASF. This led to those in the “Shield Fellowship”, as it was called, not being accepted in fellowship by those belonging to the “Central Fellowship” in Great Britain.

In counter reaction to this a group of ecclesias calling themselves “Central Fellowship” united, claiming to hold the Truth as propounded by the BASF. However, by the 1950’s many of the “Shield” ecclesias had not only come to appreciate the errors that had been taught in the past but now strongly upheld the Truth regarding sin and its condemnation in the redemptive work of our Lord. Their views were in harmony with the BASF and therefore were in fact upholding the correct “Central Fellowship” position on this subject. It also became apparent that the language of those in the group calling themselves “Central Fellowship” here in Australia was not in harmony with what the BASF did in fact teach and which was held by “Central Fellowship” in Great Britain.

Brother Carter and the Unity Agreement

 As mentioned, brethren in the 1950’s were genuinely seeking to resolve this matter. They sought the assistance of Brother John Carter for very sound reasons—because of the capacity that he had shown for several decades in expounding in clear and scriptural terms the subject of the Atonement. Most brethren and sisters are familiar with his writings, The Letters to the Romans, Hebrews, Galatians which are so relevant to the topic of the Atonement which was the difficulty here in Australia.

In the lead-up to his visit in 1958 there was much correspondence between Brother Carter and the two groups here in Australia. It became obvious that Clauses 5 and 12 of the Statement of Faith were the cause of much contention, with varying interpretations being placed upon what these clauses meant by the disputants in the issue. All claimed that their understanding was the correct way to read the clauses. How was the matter to be resolved? Let us consider the wise words of Brethren Carter and Cooper, who drafted the Basis for Unity, when they wrote to the Australian Brotherhood through the Conference held in Adelaide in 1956:

“When it is necessary in the interests of definition of a disputed item of doctrine, sound, simple, clear language should be sought and the basic principles set forth. For example, Clauses 5 and 12 of the Statement have been much discussed and we are afraid the doctrines therein set out disputed. We attach an attempt to state in simple, straight language what we think those clauses mean” (Unity Book, page 11).

Attached to that letter to the brotherhood from which the above was taken was the statement now known as “The Cooper Carter Addendum”. This Addendum was incorporated into a “Basis of Fellowship” that was prepared and forwarded to Australian ecclesias to consider and, if accepted, to be used as a basis of bringing unity in this country. A large majority of ecclesias did accept it and thus today this is the accepted basis upon which our ecclesias here in Australia meet.

The Unity Book

 How many brethren and sisters of this generation have read The Unity Book? Are you aware that there are two outstanding articles therein by Brother John Carter, one on “Isaiah 53” and the other on “The Atonement”? Not only does The Unity Book contain the history of the events that led to unity in 1958 but it also contains exposition and answers to erroneous views on the subject of the Atonement. All brethren and sisters would be greatly assisted in their grasp of this glorious topic by reading this book.

In The Unity Book on pages 13–15 there is set out the Basis of Unity upon which we here in Australia enjoy that fellowship we experience. That Statement not only sets forth the basis of our fellowship but also sets out the course that will be taken if there should be some among us who depart from the fundamental elements of the Truth.

Does the Unity Agreement Unite Two Opposing Views?

 This question has been asked by some who have not taken the time to seriously consider the material in The Unity Book, and propounded by others who seem to have some particular crotchet with the understanding of the Atonement as expounded in The Unity Book. Firstly, let us understand that to seriously suggest such a view is an open challenge to the faithfulness and doctrinal integrity of Brother Carter, Brother Cooper and those who worked with them to establish a basis for unity here in this country. However let us read Brother Carter again:

“We take, then, this opportunity to ask your co-operation in the pursuit of peace and unity of those of like mind. If the Lord could hold against a first century ecclesia that they held a doctrine which he hated, or suffered those who held such a doctrine, we see how seriously he views some things. Surely none of us would adopt a position where He would have to say it of us” (Unity Book, page 11).

This language certainly gives no tolerance for the accommodation of opposing views on such a fundamental doctrine.

Brother H P Mansfield, in answering a similar question, wrote:

“I do not find the Addendum confusing at all. It is based upon the writings of Brother Roberts in The Blood of Christ and is quite explicit. You will notice that it requires the acceptance in full of the Amended Birmingham Statement of Faith. It was not designed to accommodate two opposing doctrines as you suggest, for it does not do that. It sets forth the doctrine of the Atonement as it is found in the writings of the pioneers, and such as we have always believed. You will find it confusing, of course, if you believe that the Lord was alienated from his Father, or was in need of forgiveness” (Logos Vol 53, page 50).

Let us therefore be thankful that through the labours of brethren in the past we today can share that wider fellowship that has been made possible. Yet let us never forget that this unity has been achieved through a unity of faith. We all have a responsibility to maintain that faith in its purity and to pass it on to those coming up in our midst. Let us learn the lessons of ecclesial history. Departure from the Truth in doctrine and practice has always been the result of allowing the sharpness of the doctrines upon which faith is based to become dull and clouded.