Union and unity
“All speak the same thing. . that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10)
UNITY is a beautiful and desirable thing, but it has conditions that cannot be forced, and it requires no pleas. Where it exists, it asserts itself like a law of nature. Union may require its pleas.
Union has advantages. There has been much talk of late years of “the re-union of Christendom.” The scheme is favoured by many who would sacrifice oneness of faith (or indeed faith of any kind) for the sake of seeing all sects fused into one church. It was supposed that the Pope himself was in favour of the scheme; so he was, provided all accepted the Roman Catholic faith, in which, so far as theory was concerned, he was more consistent than the rest.
Among ourselves, there was a similar movement 20 years ago. Records of it will be found on pg. 538 of the Christadelphian for 1877 under the heading “Proposal for Reunion.” In that case, the cause of disunion was disunity of mind on the subject of the nature and sacrifice of Christ.
The remarks made then are applicable at the present time, when the particular disunion existing is due to disunity of mind on the more serious question of the character of the Holy Scriptures. We remarked then as follows:
“Union and peace are results springing from preceding conditions. Those from whom separation took place would rejoice to accept the restoration of fellowship if it were offered on the basis of truth accepted and error discarded: but they cannot accept it on the basis of a form of agreement which would cover up and compromise the real issue.
“To ‘let bygones be bygones’ is a reasonable proposal when the ‘bygones’ are of such a nature as to be sorrowed for and repudiated; but those to whom a return is proposed have no bygones to repent of so far as their course in this particular matter is concerned.
“They acted with a good conscience before God, with sorrow they were compelled to act, but seeing no alternative: and they are in the mind to act so again if necessity call for it–which God forbid. Their position now is the position they occupied then.”
“If any desire to take part In this position as the result of a conviction that they have been seduced into a wrong position, those to whom they wish to return will gladly welcome their fellowship in it. But let there be no misunderstanding. THERE CAN BE NO UNION WITHOUT UNITY.”
These remarks, just 20 years old, are strictly applicable to the present case. Agreement as to the wholly inspired infallible character of the Scriptures is the very first condition of association on the basis of belief of what they teach. This agreement was broken by the promulgation of a theory of the effect that the Scriptures were partly human and erring.
There were those who accepted this theory and those who could not, and there were those who were disposed to make it a matter of indifference. Cleavage was the inevitable result of such a situation.
The author or authors of the present “plea for unity” are not the only persons “saddened” by the “divisions and estrangements that have taken place,” but union without unity is not the remedy for the sadness.
And UNION WITH UNITY WILL NEVER BE A GENERAL THING TILL THE LORD IS HERE. He said there would be division even in families about him. And it has been so; and it is not going to stop till he ends it.
The only practicable rule of operation at present is fellowship on the basis of oneness of mind. It is a rule fraught with embarrassment and pain, but it is not of human appointment and cannot be set aside where faithfulness to the Word of God is not extinct. To confound this rule with the Corinthian schisms that gloried in particular men after the flesh, is a serious mistake.
THERE is suggested the appointment of “delegates” to meet and “finally settle the differences which exist,” “Delegates” have no power to settle matters of faith, conviction, or duty. You may give them power to engage a hall or enter upon a printing contract, or any other secular matter in which you agree beforehand to be bound by their decision.
You cannot delegate the decision of spiritual issues. This is wholly a matter of individual responsibility in which no man can bind or absolve another. When you appoint “delegates” to settle questions of duty, you abdicate individual conscience and set up a spiritual tyranny akin to the councils which have already for ages desolated the world.
The only practicable method of work in an age when God has chosen to be silent is for each man to judge for himself and as many as are of one mind to work together. The proposal to “appoint delegates with full powers to act,” and that “their decision for unity shall be final,” is the proposal of a man who may want peace (which is a good thing on the right foundation), but who does not understand what he is proposing.
1f oneness of mind be not the condition-precedent of oneness o f association, then let us return to the churches and chapels with all speed. Why stand apart from the orthodox communions, with their many advantageous connections and associations, for the sake of a spiritual fad, if the One Faith is not essential to the One Body?
It is a thing apostolically enjoined, a thing commended by the highest reason, to contend earnestly for the Faith in its integrity, and to stand aside from all who corrupt it. It is a thing, the absence of which in the first century, led to wholesale corruption, and would in our day have already destroyed the distinctive features of the Truth
In the arduous battle for the Truth, it is a thing beset with many difficulties, and a true friend of the spiritual order would not increase those difficulties by protesting against it, but would rather abet and encourage every tendency in the direction of faithfulness in this gloomy and unfriendly age.
THEN there is the proposition that “Christadelphianism is not a finality.” If this were our opinion, we should be found altogether elsewhere. We would not sacrifice present respectability and present ease for the sake of a thing admitting of uncertainty and requiring further “enquiry.”
In this point we totally differ from all our critics. WE ARE CERTAIN WE HAVE ATTAINED TO THE TRUTH, WE ARE POSITIVE, WE HAVE NO DOUBT. The Truth is not with us an object of search, or a subject of investigation, it is a possession and a finality, and this confidence is not a matter of assumption or an idiosyncrasy. – It is founded on a lifetime’s incessant daily reading of the Scriptures.
The critics condemn confidence as to the teaching of the Word. They either mean that we never can reach to the full assurance of faith or that their view of the case and not their neighbor’s is the infallible one. If the former be their meaning, they convict themselves of belonging to the class condemned in the Scriptures, who are “ever learning and nev- er able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” If the latter, it is a choice of infallibilities, and we do not hesitate to reject theirs.
“Progress” is a pretty word, and “stemming the current of progress” a dreadful crime, of course; but there is progress two ways, and we can- not accept the guidance of the critics as to when the progress is back- wards and when forwards. The backward progress of things in the first century was pushed forward with “good words and fair speeches, which deceived the hearts of the simple.”
We are one with those who hold the Truth as a finality, who do not re- quire to “lay again the foundations;” but who, strong in faith and filled with all wisdom, are engaged in the work, not of discussing the Truth, but advocating it for the development of a people who shall be found in all assurance of faith, looking and preparing for the second appearing of the Son of Man in power and great glory.
Paul commands the brethren to “all speak the same thing,” and to .be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10). How strangely, by the side of this, does the statement of this pamphlet read: That “certain differences of opinion are necessary to progress,” and that these differences are to be “appreciated rather than otherwise.” What can we do but hold by Paul and reject the pamphlet?
We can understand the sentiment of the pamphlet as applied to matters of science where knowledge comes from investigation, and investigation is stimulated by conflicting theory, but it is incomprehensible in reference to the faith of Christ except on the hypothesis already rebutted–that this is a matter of uncertainty.
The advocacy of “differences of opinion” as a matter of advantage among brethren will please well a certain class; but it will not find any favour among true saints who have come, and are helping others to
“. . come unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . being henceforth no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive”
In fact this principle of unity, as opposed to “difference of opinion,” distinguishes the true brethren of Christ from mere opinionists, who have a smattering of the Truth; but who, though “ever learning,” are never able to come to a knowledge of it.
TO THE charge of holding “that the knowledge of Scripture, in the writings of Dr. Thomas, has reached a finality,” WE PLEAD GUILTY.
If we were ignorant or unfamiliar with the Scriptures, or were like those who when they attempt to write or speak, have to look at them through the telescope of dictionaries, concordances, and such like, we should not have ground sufficient to entertain this conviction; but our acquaintance with them in daily intercourse for a lifetime enables us to be confident on the point.
Our reading has not been confined to the Scriptures, or to the writings of Dr. Thomas. We have read what others have to say in many realms of human thought. We have, therefore, all the materials to form a judgment; and our judgment is distinctly to the effect imputed-that, in the writings of Dr. Thomas, the Truth is developed as a finality, and that they are a depot of the Christian doctrine. In this sense we are “committed to Dr. Thomas.”
Dr. Thomas has been laid aside in the grave for a season; and so long as God permits life and health, we shall defend the mighty results of his labors against all ridicule and opposition from friend or foe. Were he in the land of the living, some who are in hostility would be in a different attitude towards him. When he appears, they will be ashamed.
‘Meanwhile, God, who used him in the doing of His work, lives to note the gap made by his death, and the results which were not unforeseen to Him. In His sight, and with His help, we shall hold fast to the Truth brought to light by his means; and, please God, will rejoice with him at the near-impending realization of all the hopes of the saints, in the day when bitterness of present warfare will only add sweetness to the hour of triumph.
We shall try to endure the odium which calls this a dictatorial spirit. The clear perception, strong choice, and resolute defence of that which is true and good is not the offspring of dictation; nevertheless, if enemies or friends choose to consider it so, we must heed them not. It is this spirit that enables a man to say at last: “I have fought a good fight: I have KEPT THE FAITH!”
We recognize in sorrow and compassion, the painful position of all men who love the good things revealed in the Scriptures, and incline to pursue the course that is right, and yet find themselves in a strait between their desire to live peaceably with all men, and their resolution to walk in faithfulness to the Gospel to which they have been called.
We have from the beginning suffered from this agonising embarrassment, and can sympathise with all who suffer in the same way. This sympathy takes off the edge of the resentment we should feel at the odiums cast upon us by many who love peace and misunderstand our attitude.
At the same time, it cannot relax enlightened determination to persevere in the policy of the past. Dr. Thomas recommended that policy and we have found it the only practicable one; to GIVE THE TRUTH THE BENEFIT OF ALL DOUBTS, and to accept such co-operations only as uncompromising loyalty to it might allow.
There are, of course, extremes in the application of this principle to which Dr. Thomas himself did not go, and to which we cannot lend ourselves-where unrevealed details admit of variety in opinion.
But as regards the great general truths involved in “the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ,” there is no tenable ground between returning to the churches and unqualified assent to these elements of truth.
Robert Roberts, 1898