Christadelphians do not believe that anyone is saved now, nor do they believe that anyone can have any sense of assurance regarding salvation in this life. This is connected to their belief in the Bible alone which stresses any ability to change as being linked to scriptural knowledge and personal effort. It therefore has some similarities to Pelagianism. They do not believe that God draws people to him of the Holy Spirit. They do not therefore believe in “salvation by grace”, but believe that there is a process based around knowledge and work that leads to salvation.
The process of salvation put forward is the following:
The correct set of savings beliefs are considered to be those which are summarised in the historical statements of faith, the most widely used being the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith. It is for this reason that it is sometimes referred to by Christadelphians as “the basis of fellowship”. The body of Christ (or Christians) are considered to be those who have the gospel, which is seen to be consistent with the statements of faith. One phrase often used by early Christadelphians was “the truth as it is in Jesus” because other churches having “false doctrine” were not seen to have that truth.
Gaining the correct knowledge therefore is the focus of the Christadelphain process of conversion rather than a belief that conversion is the work of God. On the one hand they promote the need for an individual search, whilst doing everything they can to influence that person into accepting their full positions and will not accept anyone who comes to any differing conclusions.
Achieving full conviction is considered necessary and this can be an extended process for those looking at becoming a Christadelphian because of the mental challenge of that process.
The Christadelphian belief in a process based upon independence of thought is a natural consequence of an absolute position of the Bible alone without any need for God’s Spirit and needs some thought therefore about the limits of independence of thought and how far that truly is possible.
Baptism is believed to be what enables one to become a Christian and is often emphasised above the concept of repentance. This is because intellect through correct Biblical knowledge gained through Bible reading is promoted as the way to conviction and a knowledge of God. Emotion and experience are seen to be subjective, rather than playing much of a meaningful role in true conversion.
Baptism is considered ineffective unless the person baptised (no matter how repentant of sin) has a correct understanding of “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ”. This belief can be shown from the fact that Christians who join from other denominations are usually required to be rebaptised if they have already been baptised. It is not, however, usually required from those who join from other Christadelphian divisions even if the issues were historically (or are considered) salvation matters.
There is a process involved in this which is called, “preparation for baptism” which is to ensure the candidate is true to the Christadelphian positions. These issues are called by Christadelphians “the first principles” and usually have more to do with accepting doctrinal positions than a preparation for living the Christian life. When a person is considered “ready” (they believe these propositions) and has “requested baptism” they are usually “examined”. This is a formal process usually conducted by “examining brethren” who have been appointed by the congregation for the task and will involve asking the candidate a series of questions about what they believe that revolves around the doctrines considered essential and those they believe should be rejected. If the candidate “passes” then “arrangements for baptism” are made. In practice few fail because no one is “put forward for baptism” without being considered “ready”.
Finally obedience to the commands of God and Christ are considered necessary for salvation. In the main Christadelphians creeds there is a section called “Doctrines to be Rejected” and one of those - number 24 - specifically requires a rejection of the belief “that the gospel alone will save, without the obedience of Christ’s commandments”.
Since assurance is only possible in Christadalphian terms after Christ returns and a physical judgment of everyone, the emphasis is upon the “need to strive” to be “found worthy”. Many wonder whether therefore they will be found “acceptable”.
The consistent claim by other Christians that the Christadelphians do not believe in “salvation by grace” but is work-based has led to some defensiveness on this issue and the claim that “we do believe in grace”.
It should be noted that apologetical positons to counter the “no grace” observation generally promote a synchronised version of grace that is not grace at all. Rather grace becomes what God gives when we have been baptised with the right knowledge and have done our best. Even if accepted it raises questions about whether if God forgives gaps in sinfulness, will he not also fill gaps of doctrinal error too that raises questions about the validity of church authority, the limitations of statements of faith and the whole correct knowledge basis of the community.
The main Christadelphain objection that salvation is fully through grace is that it allows a person to lead an immoral lifestyle if they so wish and still be saved. Sanctification or spiritual purity is therefore seen to be as a result of human effort.
The difficulty in fitting grace into Christadelphian theology is because the whole emphasis is based upon intellectual certainty emotional needs are not considered and there is no concept of emotional as well as intellectual conversion. Christadelphians do not believe therefore in religious experiences, being “born again” and therefore place little emphasis upon ideas that feature strongly in the New Testament that believers become a “new creation”, “have a new heart” or that Christ is “in them” as emotional or spiritual realities.
A former Christadelphian, Branson Hopkins, in “Unmasking Christadelphianism” traces this to John Thomas and his idea of intellectual rather than heart conversion and it is well worth reading what John Thomas wrote on repentance. Without God actively helping a person to spiritually grow progress depends on theological knowledge and how much we read the Bible as can be seen from the historical introductory statement of the Bible Companion, a Bible reading plan. It is therefore intimately tied in a Christian sense to a consideration of the influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the believer.
Christadelphians find any concept of the Holy Spirit working on the heart of the believer difficult because of their focus on being a rational faith based upon proof. They therefore tie any present day working of the Holy Spirit to the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” and want signs. In this sense it has been noted that in a way the Christadelphians have a faith which rests upon the concept of a remote God. It has also been related to the period of time called “The Age of Enlightenment” and the “Denial of the Supernatural”.
It should be noted too that any acceptance of any present day working of the Holy Spirit leads to some very deep and valid questions for Christadelphians, particularly regarding questions about freewill and predestination that it raises.
Historically few Christian groups have absolutely denied the need for the influence of the Holy Spirit in sanctification, although groups vary in how much emphasis they place on different elements such as church authority, the Bible or the Holy Spirit. An historical precedent can be found for placing the emphasis on human effort and freewill in an ancient belief system called Pelagianism, which despite having some theological differences has some practical similarities.
The Christadelphian view of salvation results in a distinct view of salvation that in practice means that although in theory people are “baptised into Christ” they are in fact also baptised into the Christadelphian denomination and are expected therefore to conform to the Christadelphian system of church authority.
The Christadelphian view of salvation and its relationship to having the correct beliefs also affects their theological views on Christian fellowship which is discussed elsewhere.