THE BASF - ITS IMPORTANCE AND TEACHING
“That at the appearing of Christ prior to the establishment of the kingdom, the responsible (namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it), dead and living—obedient and disobedient—will be summoned before his judgement seat “to be judged according to their works”; and “receive in body according to what they have done, whether it be good or bad”.—2 Cor 5:10; 2 Tim 4:1; Rom 2:5,6,16; 14:10-12; 1 Cor 4:5; Rev 11:18”.
When Messiah is revealed from Heaven, one of the first things to take place will be the judgement of the House of God. It is testified that he “shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (2 Tim 4:1), which itself implies the resurrection of the dead in order that they might stand before him for that purpose. They will be summoned out of their graves, and be gathered together with the living to appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ, that they might give account of themselves before the Lord of all the earth. As the Apostle wrote:
“ … we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14:10-12)
“We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10)
There are those who believe that the dead will be raised immortal; and that the judgement – if it takes place at all – will simply be for the bestowal of varying degrees of rewards upon the faithful. But this last passage cited above disproves any such notion, for some who appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ will be rewarded with bad. According to a man’s work, so will it be done unto him, with good and bad being received by those who are called upon to stand before the Judge of all the earth.
Messiah’s Judgement seat then, will be where men are called upon to give account of themselves, and be rewarded according to their deeds. There it shall be determined who will be granted glory, honour and immortality, and who will reap shame and aion-lasting contempt. There, the faithful shall be separated from the wicked, as wheat from the chaff (Mat 3:12), and be granted immortality that they might live and reign with their Master.
This particular clause of the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith has been the object of considerable controversy, for it is this clause that contains the alteration that made the Birmingham Statement of Faith amended. The original wording was as follows:
“That at the appearing of Christ prior to the establishment of the kingdom, the responsible (faithful and unfaithful), dead and living of both classes, will be summoned to his judgment seat “to be judged according to their works”; “and receive in body according to what they have done, whether it be good or bad”.
The current clause reads:
“That at the appearing of Christ prior to the establishment of the kingdom, the responsible (namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it), dead and living—obedient and disobedient—will be summoned before his judgement seat “to be judged according to their works”; and “receive in body according to what they have done, whether it be good or bad”.
It will be observed that in the original statement, “the responsible” (that is, those who will be held accountable to judgement) were not defined. The Amendment, made in 1898, was the insertion of the words in parenthesis defining who the responsible are: “namely those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it”. The change in wording was not intended to be a change in belief, but rather a clarification of a matter that hitherto had not been adequately expressed. Bro Roberts was emphatic that rather than being the insertion of something new, the amendment was an affirmation of what had always been taught, but not specifically defined in the existing Statement. This omission had permitted the development of a problem whereby some taught that unless a person had been baptised, they would not be held accountable by the Almighty for their actions in rejecting the Truth. This controversy (which was but a symptom of a greater problem, namely a misconception of the atoning work of Messiah), grew to become a major threat to the body, and there was a need for the Statement to be amended to reflect the true position on the matter. Those who rejected the Amendment placed themselves out of fellowship, and became known as the Unamended group, who still exist (mostly in America) today. The Amendment defined what the Christadelphian position of the matter had always been, and established the minimum requirements for fellowship on the point.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
But the question is sometimes raised, Why make a definition of who will be responsible to judgement a matter of fellowship? Why should the judgement or otherwise of enlightened rejectors of the Truth be a cause of division?
The answer is readily seen when we appreciate that the Bible’s doctrine of judgement is one of the first principles of the Gospel:
“ … in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom 2:16)
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgement. And this will we do, if God permit” (Heb 6:1-3).
“ … he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God, to be the Judge of quick and dead” (Acts 10:42).
From these citations, we learn that the Apostle was under a divine command to preach that Messiah is ordained of the Father to be the judge of the living and the dead. It was according to his gospel, that the secrets of men shall be judged – and if we preach the same Gospel as Paul, it will be according to ours also. Although in our age, to speak of coming judgements is most unfashionable, (and will inevitably bring the derision and scorn of many), nevertheless it is a fundamental Truth that in order for Yahweh’s kingdom of righteousness to be established, judgements must take place, and it is in accordance with His justice that a certain class of men shall be held accountable for their deeds. Faithful preachers of Paul’s Gospel will not shun from declaring this truth as part of their preaching.
THE RESPONSIBLE DEFINED
The oracles of God are clear that not all men will be called upon to give account of themselves to Messiah. There is a class of men who shall not be raised from the dead for any purpose, let alone to appear before the Judgement seat of Christ. So the angel implied to Daniel: “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). Notice, many shall be raised, not all. Scripture speaks elsewhere of those who shall not rise:
“O Yahweh our Elohim, other lords besides Thee have had dominion over us: but by Thee only will we make mention of Thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased; they shall not rise …” (Is 26:13,14).
“Yea, a man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: so man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” (Job 14:10-12).
These men will neither be rewarded for faithfulness, nor punished for iniquity. They “shall not rise,” being dead for ever. But why are they exempt from Judgement? What is it that places a man into the category of those who will rise to appear before Christ?
The BASF states that it is a man’s knowledge and position of calling before his Maker: “those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it”. Those who know the will of God as it is revealed in the Word, and who have therefore received the calling of the Gospel, are deemed to be accountable for their actions in rejecting it.
This is in harmony with Scripture, for as James states, “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas 4:17). Those who know to do good are convicted of sin if they do it not – those who know the commandment that Yahweh has given them, yet do it not, shall be convicted as sinners, for their rebellion shall be counted sin to them in the Day to come. By the same token, those who do not know the way of righteousness – who therefore have no opportunity to do that righteousness, and be just – will not be held accountable for defying a command that was never made known to them. The Scriptures are quite plain on this:
“the times of this ignorance God winked at …” (Acts 17:30)
“Jesus said unto them; If ye were blind, ye should have no sin” (John 9:41)
“for as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12)
“ … the law worketh wrath, for where no law is, there is no transgression …” (Rom 4:15)
Men who are “without law”, who are “ignorant” are not held accountable for not responding favourably to that which they did not know. Such men, with no understanding of the commandments of the Creator, rather to be raised for the purposes of being punished for disobedience to a law they never knew, shall rest in the grave without hope, and without punishment – like the beasts that perish:
“Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish” (Ps 49:20).
But whilst God winked at times of ignorance, no Scripture states that He winks at times of knowledge. The Scriptures are equally plain in teaching that those who have received the Light of the Word are accountable as to how they have responded to it, as we have already seen, either in obedience or disobedience:
“Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you” (Prov 1:24-27).
“This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jno 3:19)
“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (Jno 15:22)
“he that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Jno 12:48)
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16)
There is, therefore, ample Scriptural proof for the claims of the Amendment—as much proof as there is for any other fundamental Bible principle. It is in accordance with Yahweh’s righteousness that knowledge brings responsibility – a man who knows the revealed will of God, and who receives the call of the Gospel will bear accountability as to whether or not he obeys that call. Even for those who have obeyed by submitting to the waters of baptism, it is their knowledge of the way of righteousness, not their association with the blood of Christ, that will be the basis of their judgement, should they turn away:
“It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Peter 2:21).
It is written in Romans 14:12 cited earlier, that “every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Again, Peter speaks of the believers “who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead” (1 Pet 4:5). But what does the Spirit mean by “give account”? What kind of account is being referred to? What will comprise a good account, which will be accepted by the Master?
The Judgement is often presented as being a review of deeds done, where folk who appear before the judgement seat will recite their works, with their salvation being dependant upon whether or not they are able to speak of mostly good deeds. There is truth in this – there will undoubtedly be a review of past deeds involved with the process, for it is upon the basis of those deeds that men shall be rewarded, or condemned. However, Scripture would appear to give a slightly different picture to that which is commonly imagined of what comprises a good account. There are those who will be rejected by the Judge, who are able to cite their good works as a reason for their entry into the kingdom:
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out demons? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mat 7:22-23).
Here, a good account is given, in the sense that good works are listed with the expectation of gaining entry into the Kingdom. But these men are rejected as workers of iniquity. They boasted of their wonderful works, yet left many other things undone, for they did not the will of their Father in heaven. A good account alone is insufficient; it must be matched with good deeds, and a turning away from iniquity.
But again, the Master told a parable concerning a Pharisee, and a publican, both of whom went into the temple to pray:
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other …” (Luke 18:11-13).
The man who was “justified”, or considered to be righteous by the Father, was the man who was filled with the sense of his sinfulness in the sight of the Almighty, and who sought the Father’s mercy and forgiveness. Again, the one who gave “a good account” of his deeds was the man who was not accepted. He proclaimed his righteousness, but it was the one who sought forgiveness that was a righteous man.
Upon the basis of these passages, we would tentatively suggest that a mere proclamation of personal righteousness is not what will be required at the Judgement Seat of Messiah. “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20:6). A proclamation of one’s own goodness is of little value when compared to the faithfulness of one who humbly seeks the mercies of Yahweh, and who seeks to walk uprightly in His sight. What will count in the day to come, is not how many good works, or great works, we are able to boast of, but our entire disposition of character. Whether we have humbly sought to walk with our God or no. Whether we have used our Talents wisely, or whether we have buried them in the ground. In reflecting upon the coming Judgement Seat of Christ which we will stand before, we should be stirred up to take heed to our ways, to seek forgiveness wherein we have erred, and to strive to uphold the Father’s righteousness in all that we do. If we do those things, it will then surely be given to us to enter into the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.