The Agora
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Confessions of an ex-Berean...

Confessions of an ex-Berean, almost-Dawn, and at-last-Central brother:

I grew up, and was baptized (1965) in a Berean ecclesia. I was a serious student (above all my contemporaries, if I may say so), studying all the "pioneer" writings (for example, I read Eureka for the first time when I was 17 -- yes, all the way through, and carefully, making notes in my wide-margin Bible). I studied the Berean position on fellowship, and I knew (as best anyone can know) how wrong Central was: there was evolution, and clean flesh, and loose living, etc, etc. The problem was: I knew about Bro Lovelock and "evolution", about Bro Strickler and "clean flesh", and the "Endeavour" magazine, and I assumed that these issues were grounds for remaining separate from all my brethren in the "loose, liberal, worldly" Central fellowship. I even knew the passages about fellowship -- like the "heretick" passage, and the "Godspeed" passage, and the "Can two walk together?" passage. But I had never studied these passages in context; I just knew, without studying them, that they must justify the Berean position by condemning the Central position.

Most telling of all, however, I didn't know any real "Central" brethren as individuals -- I just knew them as a group of errorists.

Then, in 1972, I married a young Berean sister whose family was simultaneously joining the Dawn fellowship. Why did they leave the Bereans to join Dawn? Because in Texas, where we lived, a Berean brother had been divorced and then married again, and was not disfellowshipped! Here was a "sin" which was tolerated by the Berean ecclesias, but would not be tolerated by the Dawn fellowship! We had studied divorce and remarriage also, and concluded -- with the Dawn -- that any second marriage, while the first spouse was still alive, was a continuing "state of adultery". It seemed so logical, and we never let personalities get in the way of principle.

We became disillusioned with the Berean fellowship because they just would not go to the limits necessary, as we saw it, to preserve the Truth on Divorce and Remarriage. But we became equally disillusioned with the Dawn fellowship also, when we had a personal interview with the elder (and leading) Dawn brother in Canada, in which he informed us that there was, in his opinion, no solid Bible evidence for the Dawn "4 points" on " D & R"!

We were aghast. How could one be in the Dawn fellowship, even a leading brother, and not hold absolutely and unequivocally to the Dawn position, every point of it? And, for that matter, how could the Bereans -- who had taught me that principle came first and foremost -- allow "adulterers" to break bread with them?

It was shortly after this, in 1973, that my wife and I found ourselves in a city where the only ecclesia was a Central ecclesia. We didn't join the ecclesia at first, but we did attend Central Bible classes (expecting to confirm at close range our previous assessments arrived at from a safe distance). Here, for the first time, we met, week after week, and face to face, real Central brothers and sisters. The surprise was... they were just like us. Their beliefs were the same, in all essentials. They didn't believe evolution or clean flesh; and they didn't know of anyone who did.

But the real revelation was in meeting, week after week, a sister who had been divorced and remarried. Technically, by our view of things, she was a continuing "adulteress" because her first (and -- some would say -- only true) husband was still alive... somewhere. But she also happened to be, at the same time, a God-fearing and kind and spiritual sister who brought her children to Bible classes and meetings, who hoped fervently for the return of her Savior, and who discussed intelligently all the principles of the Truth.

For the first time, we had to evaluate our theories alongside real flesh-and-blood people. We realized that something had to give.

The first thing to go was the Dawn "continuing state of adultery" theory, which I discovered upon further Bible study was neither Scriptural nor even "pioneer-compatible".

The second thing to go was the Berean/Dawn "pure fellowship" paradigm: Careful study of the various Bible passages used to justify separation from Central showed me that they had been misapplied and misinterpreted. In 1974 we joined the Central fellowship, where we have been ever since. Out of this came a book, "Biblical Fellowship", which is still available today.

But what about other Bible passages, like the passages that warn of apostasy -- the "wolves" among the "sheep", "the love of many shall wax cold", "Shall he find faith on the earth", etc, etc? Yes, they are there. And there HAS developed, in the history of Christianity, an apostasy fully answering to the verses. But is the Central fellowship, or any other group of Christadelphians, the Scriptural fulfillment of those predictions? No, I do not believe so. Why? Because the basis of faith and fellowship in the Central group is sound, and because any individual instances of error (in teaching or conduct) should be Scripturally dealt with by the nearest brethren and/or ecclesia on a local basis. How well -- or poorly -- they are handled in every case is not our personal concern.

Even though I wrote "Biblical Fellowship" about 20 years ago, I always felt there should be a follow-up study, with the purpose of distinguishing -- on a sound Bible basis -- between essential and non-essential Bible teachings. Why? Because brethren could always say something like this: 'Yes, of course! We know we should be forgiving and kind and patient, and even mindful of the One Body. And we are...with our own brothers and sisters. But these principles in 'BF' are beside the point; they just don't apply to Group A... or B... or C because they are wrong on such-and-such first principle.' So it seemed that we as Christadelphians needed a Biblical test by which true first principles could be separated from other, secondary matters (which should not be made tests of fellowship). This study I finally managed to complete, interspersed among many other things, this year [1999]. It is entitled "What Are the First Principles?" The two books together should help to understand, in the words of Brother Robert Roberts, "how far we should go, AND WHERE WE SHOULD STOP, in our demands upon fellow-believers".

And that is an overview, albeit a brief one. Sometimes, on reflection, it seems like a pale version of the Saul/Paul spiritual journey... There was a time when I thought I was doing service to God by remaining separate from, and castigating (condemning?), most of the Christadelphians worldwide, because they would not join a "pure fellowship" like mine. "Been there, done that!" I pray that I will obtain mercy, because I did it in the flush of youthful zeal, when I thought I had all the answers, and when I thought it was NECESSARY to have all the answers.

More than thirty years after my baptism, I'm not nearly so sure I have all the answers to all the problems that beset the brotherhood. In fact, I'm still working on my own problems, and I admit I'm not completely free of the "beam" in my own eye. I know I will need mercy in the day when I stand before Christ, and I feel sure that others will need mercy too. That Judgment Seat is soon enough (and it is the right place) to handle all sorts of perceived problems in the brotherhood; and that judgment will be done correctly -- we can rest assured in that.

While I understand much more of the deep things and nuances of Bible teaching than I did 30 years ago, I believe that the real "Truth" is in fact a quite simple thing -- like the straightforward Bible teaching in Acts about Christ's life, death, resurrection, and second coming. (Please obtain and read "WATFP" for a full development of this point.) An old rabbi (I'm sure he was an old rabbi, and not a young one -- but that may be one of MY remaining unproven prejudices!) said that the Bible is like a river... so deep that the strongest man must swim there... and at the same time so shallow that even a little child can wade. We each come to the Bible in all the various stages of our personal spiritual development, and it offers us something at every level. The problems of fellowship practice come when we, wherever we happen to be on the continuum of learning/experience/development, try to bring everyone else up (or maybe down) to our level at that moment.

I have spent 23 years in the Central fellowship, and (unlike the youthful zealot of a quarter century ago) I can now speak from considerable personal experience. The Central fellowship is not a perfect body, but I don't expect it to be. It has the same problems, in individuals and even in whole ecclesias, that other groups (Dawn, Berean, Old Paths, Unamended) have (and I've seen a fair amount of them all). It may even have more problems, because there are simply many more Central brethren and ecclesias (and certainly many more "novice" brethren and ecclesias) than there are in the other Christadelphian bodies. But, on a per capita basis, it is no worse, and it may be better and more spiritual overall, than any of the smaller groups.

The "Body of Christ" is not an ivory tower, nor a fortress, nor an "Elijah-cave", where we can hide from errors/problems/sins, keep our robes spotless, and wait for Christ to come. The "Body of Christ" is, instead, a "hospital", where sick people go to get better, and to help others get better. IF our robes are spotless when Christ comes, it will not be because we have kept them pulled back from his imperfect brethren, but because we have washed them in his precious blood. "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as other men!" But you are -- I am -- we are -- all too much like other men. In the last analysis, I belong to an "impure fellowship" because my "fellowship" includes... ME!

Brother, reflect on these other passages I've referred to above. Put them all in the "mix" with the other "fellowship" passages. Get copies of "BF" and "WATFP" and read them too. Ponder them all. Don't be satisfied to stake your claim to acceptance at the Judgment Seat on being "better" than your brethren -- Central or Unamended or whatever. Such an ambition is a "bruised reed"; if you lean on it, it will break and pierce you at the final day. Remember the publican's prayer: "God be merciful to me... a sinner!"

Yours in the One Hope,
George Booker

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