I have a work colleague who is a Christadelphian and, frankly, I had never heard of this religious community until now. What is their history and what do they believe?
The name Christadelphian comes from the Greek words for Christ (Christos) and brothers (adelphoi). The group is of relatively recent origin, tracing its origin to John Thomas (1805-1871), who emigrated from England to North America in 1832. Following a near shipwreck, he vowed to find out the truth about life and God through personal study of the Bible. In the US Thomas found sympathy in the Restoration Movement, whose members sought reform based on the Bible alone, rejecting all creeds.
This soon led to dissent, since Thomas developed his own personal beliefs, which he considered essential for salvation, and he began to question mainstream Christian beliefs. He believed that Scripture, as the word of God, did not support a multiplicity of differing beliefs, and he challenged the leaders to continue the process of restoring first-century Christian beliefs and correct interpretation through a process of debate.
During this period of formulating his ideas Thomas was baptised twice, the second time after renouncing the beliefs he had previously held, leading the Restorationists to reject him. He based his new position on an appreciation of the reign of Christ on the throne of King David. On a lecturing tour to the United Kingdom in 1848-1850, Thomas founded the Christadelphians there, and they were especially well received in Scotland.
One of Thomas’ passionate followers was Robert Roberts, who in 1864 published a magazine for the community and carried on the work of developing the movement after the death of Thomas. After his death, the movement became divided over doctrinal issues and several groups broke away. At present there are some 50,000 Christadelphians in around 120 countries.
A principal tenet of Christadelphians is that all beliefs are based solely on the Bible, which is regarded as inspired by God and error-free. Christadelphians reject belief in the Trinity, believing that the Father is a separate being from the Son, Jesus Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is only the power of God in creation and salvation. Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah, he is the Son of Man, and he is the Son of God by virtue of his miraculous conception by the power of God. But he is not God from all eternity.
Although Christ was tempted, he committed no sin and he was therefore a perfect representative to bring salvation to mankind. Christadelphians believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him immortality, that he ascended into heaven and that he will return to set up the kingdom of God on earth, in fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham and David. They believe that this kingdom will be the restoration of God’s first kingdom of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.
Christadelphians believe that the devil is not an independent spiritual being or fallen angel but rather the general principle of evil and the inclination to sin found in all mankind. Hell is not a place of eternal suffering for sinners, but rather a state of eternal death, of non-existence due to the annihilation of the body and the soul.
As regards salvation, Christadelphians believe that people have been separated from God because of their sins but they can be reconciled with him by becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. This they do by belief in the gospel, repentance for their sins and baptism by total immersion in water. Christadelphians reject assurance of salvation, believing instead that salvation comes by remaining “in Christ”. It is their belief that, after death, believers remain in a state of non-existence, knowing nothing until the resurrection at the return of Christ.
Following the judgment when Christ returns, the saved receive the gift of immortality and live with Christ on a restored earth, assisting him to establish the kingdom of God and to rule over the mortal population for a thousand years, the “Millennium”. Some Christadelphians believe that while the kingdom will be centred on Israel, Christ will reign over all nations, while others believe the kingdom will be limited to the land of Israel.