There can be no simpler expression of the Divine purpose than that expressed in this prayer of our Lord. Yahweh is one (Deut 6:4; Zech 14:9), and that unity or oneness has been so beautifully encapsulated by the Creator’s wisdom in His name Yahweh, which is a memorial of His purpose. This glorious purpose is the predominant theme of the prayer of our Lord in John 17. He includes in that prayer the petition that all those “which shall believe on me through their (the apostles’) word” may be “one” in him and in his Father (verse 20).

In the early ecclesia we see the power and unifying effect that a belief in the word of the apostles engendered. Those who received and believed their word, “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers”… “continuing daily with one accord” in their fellowship and worship (Acts 2:42–46). Again we are told that “the multitude of them that believed (the apostles’ words or doctrine) were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). This true unity or oneness for which the Lord prayed permeated the ecclesia because the teaching of the apostles was believed and faithfully obeyed.

The Basis of Fellowship

 It was the words or teachings of the apostles that laid the foundation for the unity, oneness or fellowship in the early ecclesia, and which is the basis of that ultimate oneness for which our Lord prayed. But are the apostles’ teachings merely a list of fundamental doctrines or are they more? John explains the matter further when he writes: “That which we (the apostles) have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

The apostles’ words included both the teachings and the example and actions that they had seen manifest in their Lord. They declared a “way of life” based upon those teachings. Thus John continues: “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie”. Doctrinal purity of itself does not gain for us fellowship or unity with the Father. It is a walk exhibiting a oneness or unity of mind with the teachings of God’s Word that brings fellowship. John continues in verse 7: “If we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another”. All doctrine must have a bearing upon our life. It is a manifestation of Yahweh in our life that brings a oneness, unity or fellowship with the Father and the Son, and thus with one another.

The first step towards our enjoyment of that unity for which the Lord prayed is a belief of the apostles’ teaching in these matters. There is “one faith” as there is “one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:3–6). As a fundamental of that fellowship there needs to be therefore a clear definition and understanding of those truths that the apostles taught.

The History of The Statement of Faith

 Our Statement of Faith with its Positive and Negative Clauses, together with The Commandments of Christ, sets forth a definition of those truths. Some at times have questioned the necessity of having a written definition of the apostles’ doctrine. However, those who are familiar with the way the Truth was providentially revived through the service of Brother Thomas will understand the necessity for a definition of Bible Truth. As Brother Thomas gradually discovered each element of the Truth it necessitated a rejection of apostate error. In 1848 when he had finally come to an appreciation of the doctrines of the Truth he published his Confession, Abjuration and Declaration setting forth that which he now believed. The history of the revival of the Truth is set forth in Dr Thomas, His Life and Work, which we recommend all should read.

However, it was another 30 years before the document we know as The Statement of Faith was to become the widely accepted statement that bound ecclesias together. It was during this period that the ecclesias were thrown into confusion by the teachings of Brother E Turney of Nottingham. He renounced the Truth and propounded the “Clean Flesh and Free Life” doctrine. As we read through The Statement of Faith and the Doctrines to be Rejected we note that these teachings have been specifically included and dealt with to ensure that they are not accepted among us.

The Ecclesial Guide and the Basis of Fellowship

 Brother Roberts in his foresight and concern for the orderly establishment of ecclesial life compiled The Ecclesial Guide in 1883. This booklet is an example of the wisdom and spiritual maturity of Brother Roberts as he applied scriptural principles for the maintenance of ecclesial life in a time so far removed from the days of the apostles.

This little booklet not only contained a guide for the formation and conduct of Christadelphian ecclesias, but a summary of matters which today has become the basis of the constitution of most of our ecclesias. It also included A Statement of the Doctrines Forming the Christadelphian Basis of Fellowship which included Doctrines to be Rejected, concluding with a summary of The Commandments of Christ. How timely this publication of The Ecclesial Guide in 1883 proved to be was revealed in the incidents of the following year.

The Birmingham Statement of Faith

 In 1884 Brother Ashcroft plunged the ecclesial world into turmoil by challenging the total inspiration of the Scriptures. Brother Roberts quickly saw the ramifications of such a theory and brought the matter to a head by finally insisting that only those who believed in the total inspiration of the Scriptures should be retained in fellowship. In August 1886 the Birmingham Ecclesia added an introductory clause to The Statement of Faith set out in The Ecclesial Guide of 1883, and then accepted this Statement as the basis upon which brethren and sisters would be accepted into their fellowship. The added clause which now heads The Statement of Faith is entitled “The Foundation”, and its main thrust is to affirm that the Bible is “wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers”.

The Birmingham Statement of Faith was soon to become the standard Statement used by the majority of ecclesias throughout the world. Those ecclesias adopting this Statement as their basis of fellowship became known as “The Central Fellowship”. The Birmingham Statement of Faith has stood the test of over a century, for apart from one amendment for the purpose of clarification of an accepted Bible teaching, it has proven to be a sound and wise expression of those doctrines which bind us together in the fellowship we enjoy today.

The Amendment

 With the passing of another decade another controversy confronted the Brotherhood. Brother J J Andrew of London became possessed with the extraordinary idea that none but the baptised could possibly be raised from the dead for punishment. Brother C C Walker wrote:

“His terrible thesis stated in its extremist form in his own words was this, ‘Those who are outside (Christ’s) redemptive work cannot come forth. They are in Adam; Christ has never bought them. They never come within the scope of his blood; and therefore he is not their Lord to judge them.’ In other words, a man might with perfect impunity reject the Gospel and commit every kind of wickedness, without fear of facing resurrection and condemnation so long as he diligently kept ‘outside Christ’s redemptive work’: that is, was not ‘baptised into Christ’!”

Brother J J Andrew withdrew from the Central Fellowship but the matters raised caused an ongoing difficulty. After the death of Brother Roberts, Brother C C Walker continued to contend for a clear definition of the Truth regarding “Resurrectional Responsibility” as the new theory was called. In September 1908 the Birmingham Christadelphian Ecclesia adopted an amendment to Clause 24 of the Statement of Faith. The amendment, which is the words in parentheses now in that clause, clarified who the responsible are.

Thus today we have in The Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (commonly called the BASF) a clear definition of the Truth as held and taught by the apostles. It is therefore understandable that we accept it as the basis of the fellowship that we enjoy together.

The Commandments of Christ

 As we have seen, fellowship as expressed by John is a walking “in the light”. It is a manifestation of the precepts of Christ as taught by the apostles in our daily life. Thus Brother Roberts in The Ecclesial Guide expresses it this way: “We accept and profess the doctrines and precepts of Christ, as taught in the apostolic writings, and defined in the annexed Statement of Faith and Epitome of the Commandments of Christ”; and again: “We recognise as brethren, and welcome into fellowship, all who have been immersed (by whomsoever) after their acceptance of the same doctrines and precepts” (Ecclesial Guide p 39). Some, thinking that The Statement of Faith alone was our basis of fellowship, have condemned it because it does not deal with the necessary “walk” that should be manifest by those who believe the Truth. As we can see from the above statements of Brother Roberts, they have taken too narrow a view of the matter, as he stressed the need for believers to follow the precepts of Christ in their lives.

Brother Roberts always saw the teachings of the apostles as a way of life in harmony with that manifest by our Lord. Surely God-manifestation must be the central theme of God’s message. Christ’s prayer for those who believe the apostles’ words was “that they also may be one in us”… “even as we are one(John 17:21–22). Christ could say, “I and my Father are one(John 10:30). What greater oneness or fellowship can there be than that of manifesting the Father by always doing His will. The life of Christ is epitomised in The Commandments of Christ which form part of that basis of fellowship to which we are called.

Thus in the introduction to The Commandments of Christ Brother Roberts wrote: “When we believe the truth, we must next obey the commandments. If we fail to do this, the truth is not only no advantage to us, but will be to our condemnation. A community in which the commandments of Christ are not obeyed is not the house of Christ, but the synagogue of Satan, however correctly the truth may be discerned as a theory”.

We would therefore earnestly encourage all brethren and sisters to read and meditate upon those foundations that are set out in The Statement of Faith and The Commandments of Christ. The doctrines clearly set out therein separate us from the heresies of the Apostasy. It is through a sharpness of mind in understanding these fundamental doctrines that we will be able to maintain the Truth in these last evil days. It is the responsibility of all brethren and sisters to have a clear and perceptive grasp of these teachings.

It was through a familiarity with the apostles’ doctrine that the early ecclesia was bound together with “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). It is through those same teachings, believed and obeyed, that we today can likewise be bound together in one with our Heavenly Father and His Son. May we all strive to allow our Lord’s prayer on our behalf to find fulfilment in us to the glory of Yahweh.