This is commonly referred to as “The Ecclesial Guide” and was written by Robert Roberts who took a prominent leadership role in the Christadelphian community after the founder, John Thomas died. It is important in understanding why for historical reasons the Christadelphians are organised the way they are. It is clear from certain passages within it that it was an approach already adopted by many existing Christadelphian churches, although this guide went further by defining this type of organisation into a denominational approach by setting out procedures for inter-church co-operation largely based around a rulebook approach and a defined statement of faith.
Whilst it contains many good and sensible points it has a structure that lends itself to rigid tradition by its adherence to formal approaches and thinking. It works on the basis that the teachings of Christ can be set into a rigid framework and has a firm belief that we have to do this because we do not have any direct help or guidance by God. This belief comes out in many places and the high formalism that results from this firm belief can be seen even down to the need to list the commands of Christ and distinguish between those that are “hard” and those that are “less difficult.”
Few Christadelphians have read it fully even though its approach has set up the whole denominational approach in a way that is highly resistant to change, although it is clear the community is now wrestling with the need for change.
An examination of most church constitutions compared with this guide shows its influence. It is also mentioned in some inter-church documents such as those which were used to unite some historical divisions. An example can be found within the proposed attempt to rejoin the Amended and Unamended divisions, which was to be called the NASU agreement. To quote: “We expect that ecclesias will continue to make prayerful, scripturally-guided decisions “consistent with the principles stated in the Ecclesial Guide.” The logical alignment of the various Christadelphian documents therefore makes this to some degree the rulebook.
As such it is important to see the original, because given some weight as a legal basis of authority any change in it is a potential alteration of church authority. At the inter-church level its historic significance still carries some official weight due to the way all the different documents inter-relate. To adopt another approach also would be to step out of line with both tradition and status quo. This guide historically established principles such as the idea of ecclesial autonomy, uniting on the basis of a statement of faith, how disfellowshipped people can apply to rejoin other meetings and so forth.
This was written in 1883 and has been checked against one I have in my possession and found on a Christadelphian website here. Any minor errors I may have will willingly be removed if noted. The original has a lack of consistent punctuation, capitalisation, paragraph breaks and so forth which have been followed for accuracy. It also uses the archaic form of Roman verse numeracy and forms which I have maintained. Later Christadelphian editions and reprints do tidy it up and make it more polished than the original. They also make a number of alterations. I have highlighted in BLUE for ease of comparison omissions in the 1989 Edition published by The Christadelphian magazine.
The ecclesial guide has been broken up into sections in the order that they appear within the guide. It should be noted that the statement of faith is the original 1877 Birmingham Statement of Faith and the doctrines to be rejected are the original list. The development of all these elements in later Statements of Faith can therefore be compared with this guide. The sections are: