When considering the theme “Remembering the Days of Old” we thought that it was more than interesting to recall the establishment of what we have come to know as the Unity Basis. With many brethren not ever having had a personal acquaintance with the events of forty-six years ago, we thought it was important to inform and remind ourselves of the events and their outcomes. This is increasingly important, especially in the light of recurring challenges being made seeking to circumvent or, worse still, to dismiss the relevance of the Unity Basis. Ignorance is no defence against persistent attacks upon what has safely expressed the wonder of God’s redemption.

The year 1958 was a watershed for the Australian Ecclesias, for in that year unity was largely achieved after many years of unhappy separation. It is often said, and truly so, that the price of unity is eternal vigilance. This is as vital today as it ever was. It should be the duty of every brother, elected to be responsible for the conducting of ecclesial affairs on behalf of the brethren and sisters of his ecclesia, to make himself familiar with the history of our unity basis.

Historical Background

Briefly then, these are the circumstances that led up to the visit to the shores of Australia of the then editor of The Christadelphian, Brother John Carter.

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In 1885 the controversy  over the question of the  inspiration of the Bible  led to the division known  historically as “The partial  inspiration division”. As  a result there were two  fellowships in the UK,  “Central” and “Suffolk  Street”, the former serviced  by The Christadelphian, the  latter by The Fraternal Visitor.  This division persisted until  1957, when unity was achieved  in Britain.

Due to other complications  that had arisen in the nineteen  thirties, ecclesias in Australia  were aligned with the two  fellowships in England. In  1904 The Shield magazine was commenced  in Australia, which gave its name to the Shield  Ecclesias, who found themselves in association  with the Suffolk Street fellowship. This grouping  of ecclesias were by far the majority of ecclesias in  Australia. The Central fellowship was represented  by ecclesias in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane,  with smaller groups in other places.

However, the division in Australia was not over  the question of “inspiration”, but was fuelled by  sharp differences regarding the nature of Christ,  and the implications in the outworking of the  Atonement. Those divisions of thought revolved  around the understanding of clauses five and twelve  of the BASF.

The expression in clause five, “a sentence which defiled”, was disputed to have the connotation of either a “moral” or “physical” application. In clause twelve the controversy raged over the Biblical expression “sin in the flesh”; did it define the flesh as being actual “sin”, or did it express merely the moral misdemeanours perpetrated by human nature?

In either case the extreme views separated the moral from the physical, failing to perceive the relationship between the two. The one view excluded the physical application, leaving the use of the word “sin” to apply to moral issues only, the other confused the two, applying the term “sin” to the physical as a separate aspect of sin of equal force with the moral.

In the outworking of these extreme views it is not surprising that, when applied to the atoning work of our Lord, they effectively separated Christ from the work he came to do, failing to understand the representative relationship he bore to the race that he came to save.

The Insightful Assistance of Brother John Carter

By 1953, ecclesias in Melbourne had reached a basis for agreement. Soon after a unity committee was formed between brethren in Melbourne and Sydney. Then in 1956 an appeal letter was sent from the Conference committee to brethren John Carter and Cyril Cooper to assist with the work of unity in Australia. This resulted in a reply from the two brethren with their suggestions, coupled with an Addendum explaining in simple terms what was meant by the disputed expressions in clauses five and twelve.

The disputed term in clause five, “defiled”, was given a moral connotation in The Addendum.

“He fell from his very good state and suffered the consequences of sin—shame, a defiled conscience and mortality.”

This was balanced when defining “sin in the flesh” as used in clause twelve:

“As his descendants, we partake of that mortality that came by sin and inherit a nature prone to sin.”

The expression here used, “prone to sin”, was a valuable addition to the Truth’s literature, in that it simply defined the relationship between moral misdemeanour and the promptings of the nature that produce such actions. This relationship then between the flesh (the cause) and sins (effect) greatly helped brethren and sisters to see how Jesus was related to his own offering, putting to death the cause, in crucifying the flesh, yet defeating the effect by his sinless life. Thus he was related to his own death by his common nature with mankind, yet saved “out of death” by his own sacrifice, in perfecting obedience on the cross.

In June 1957 a letter went to all Australian Ecclesias with a basis for unity in Australia, which included The Addendum, which found wide acceptance among the ecclesias, there being a few exceptions. This was followed by an invitation to Brother Carter to visit Australia in 1958, who when he came and appraised first hand the situation, was astonished to find that The Shield fellowship was more Central than the Central Ecclesias themselves.

As a result of his wonderful, but simple expositions on the Atonement, and his patient wisdom among the various groups of ecclesias, unity was eventually established in Australia among all the signatories to the Australian Unity Agreement.

Unity was undoubtedly the work of God, and in that work Brother Carter’s contribution was monumental. His insight on the subject of the Atonement, coupled with his ability to express profound truths in simple language, delivered with a humility that avoided offence, were the critical factors in the victory achieved under God’s grace. This is how he expressed it himself:

“We should eschew slick labels which are easily used but often do not truly define. We must distinguish between true principles and uncertain details. Clichés of speech are full of dangers, as are also figures of speech pressed into the moulds of literal definitions.

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We should as ‘one man’ keep familiar with our Unity agreement, and re-read “The Unity Book” which was produced in 1963 as a summary of the whole history. Brother HP Mansfield made this comment upon its release.

“The Booklet is a most timely one, and we give every encouragement to its dissemination. It should perform a valuable service abroad, for it clearly sets out the basis of fellowship, and indicates the ecclesial action that shall follow the propagation of false doctrine” (Logos Vol 30 page 151).

To this we add the appeal from The Unity Book itself.

“The benefits and fruits of this reunion have been so precious that all brethren and sisters are urged not only to familiarise themselves with the history of the reunion and the basis upon which it was effected, but to realise their individual responsibility to do all in their power to preserve the blessings of this reunion” (Page 83).