Unlike much of Christianity the major focus of the Christadelphian community is not on knowing Jesus now, being like him or even his teachings. The focus is on the Old Testament and revolves around the nation of Israel and the Jews. In many ways this has rightly been described as the way the Jews viewed the world before Christ came and before the New Covenant was given.
These beliefs are supported from scripture, mostly by using Old Testament quotes and are connected to a very rigid belief in Biblical infallibility which disallows any human element in the process of inspiration and any progression of understanding therefore by the writers. An attempt to discuss various views of how inspiration may have worked led to a division in the community and a Foundation Statement being added to the main statement, the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith.
It focuses in particular on promises given to the founders of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which the Jews believed applied to them as “God’s people” and which Christadelphians view the same way. In fact one group which originated from shared origins calls itself “The Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith”. This is also related to later prophecies in the Old Testament given to a king of Israel, David. It also focuses heavily on the expectations of the Old Testament prophets.
The Jewish prophets preached prior and following a period when the Jews had their nations at the time (Israel and Judah) taken over by invaders. Many were taken into the nations of their captors, a process which is called “the captivity”. The prophets preached this event was to occur as a result of disobedience to the Law of Moses and a lack of full following of God with the heart. They also preached that God would return a remnant of the faithful to the land of Israel, re-establish their place as a nation and that eventually through them the promises given by God to be a blessing to all nations would be fulfilled.
This expectation of a physical restoration of the kingdom of Israel was the expectation of the Jews when Jesus preached in the New Testament that “the kingdom of God is at hand”. It is this expectation that Christadelphians historically believed is to occur in the future and forms the central focus of the gospel. Taken as written by the prophets in the Old Testament this requires a physical temple built in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is to be the capital of the world and Christ is placed in the role of a king ruling from the throne of David. Historically Christadelphians have followed those prophecies to the letter and also believe in the restoration of the Law of Moses and the return of animal sacrifices.
The focus of the Christadelphians on the physical restoration of a physical kingdom in the land of Israel ruling over a physical kingdom on earth is not unique, although they have other distinct doctrines too. These are typified by a materialistic worldview that views everything as matter and leads to a denial and reinterpretation of references to the devil, demons, people having souls and spirits and so forth which are particularly prominent in the New Testament. This has created a whole series of difficult verses and the writing of books such as Wrested Scriptures to try and explain them away. The elevation of a materialistic worldview was noted by the contemporaries of John Thomas and was attributed to the influence of the Age of Enlightenment and the elevation of scientific worldviews.
In the case of the Christadelphians the return of Christ and belief in the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth is accompanied by a strong belief in separation from The World and a lack of belief we can or should effect any real change now. There is therefore passive support of the status quo, a lack of interest in social justice and the retreat from active involvement in society as a form of protest. This retreat is accompanied by a strong examination of present day events for signs which has now occurred for 150 years. Theologically as a community the Christadelphians look carefully for possible scenarios leading to the fulfilment of the hope and have had a very strong apocalyptic stance which they use as method of generating interest and in the process of conversion.
The major difficulty with the Christadelphian theological approach is that it is heavily intellectual and it doesn’t readily reconcile with the practical teachings and emphasis of Jesus. The restoration of a physical kingdom on earth similar to that in the Old Testament, a rebuilding of the ancient Temple and temple worship (including the restoration of the Law of Moses and animal sacrifices) also doesn’t fit the idea that repentance is at the heart of change or the concept of grace. Nor does it fit the New Testament concept that believers are led by God’s Spirit and that change is through inner repentance not external law.
Many mainstream Christians are unaware of the difficulties the literal acceptance of Old Testament prophecies as yet unfulfilled present. The difficulty is in reconciling these differences within a belief in rigid infallibility of scripture. In many ways the Christadelphian community shows the limitation of the concept of Biblical infallibility and in balancing it in favour of the Old Testament do some injustice to the very issue of the heart and getting it right that Jesus placed most emphasis on. In contrast to how Christadelphians interpret the Old Testament, much of Christianity in general has spiritualised the understandings of the Old Testament prophets. More than generally recognised by Christdelphians many New Testament writers quote the Old Testament seemingly out of context as do many early Christian writings. To explore this further requires a discussion of how inspiration works and what principles of interpretation can validly be used and which would be consistent.
The emphasis upon a future kingdom on earth as the primary focus of Christianity has also led to belief in a form of retreat from The World and an emphasis upon protection of doctrines and salvation through correct beliefs that diminishes the grace of God.
That many Christadelphian positions can be defended from scripture is clear, but their claim to have balanced it better than everyone else shows a failure to be able to see different angles and perspectives. It has also led to a rigid and enclosed mental belief structure and system of church authority that has led to a lot of schism and a lot of pain.
It has also led to a focus on present day events and prophetical speculation about events surrounding the return of Christ that have often failed to happen in the ways expected.