An important concept to grasp in order to understand Christadelphians, their unique character and outlook is the idea of “the world”. It also explains why those who leave, are disfellowshipped or excluded struggle.
The ideas are based upon a very clear concept found in the Bible and believed to some degree by all Christian denominations. The idea is that when a person becomes a Christian they join a community of people called “the body of Christ”. This exists as a spiritual community within a system run by non-believers which is called “the world”. In the Bible believers are told that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” because believers don’t live for the same things. They don’t have the same values, same desires for truth, godliness and so forth. The idea is that association is corrupting for the believer and friendship can only really happen when we mentally or emotionally compromise.
The position presented in the Bible is an extreme one and high commitment groups such as the Christadelphians seek to obey it. The most extreme and committed form is that of sharing “all things in common” which Christadelphians do not do. They would in general concede the principle here is right, but suggest lack of human ability prevents it even though there are groups such as the Hutterites who have done so.
They adopt instead a position that through need we have to associate with the world, but play little part in its systems. In other words all our friends should be Christadelphians, we should marry Christadelphians and all our activities and thoughts should be directed to living as children of God. This in practice means following and perpetuating the systems of church authority, because the narrowness of belief promoted historically by Christadelphians limits the body of Christ to themselves alone.
The whole collective systems of non-Christadelphians are considered to be “the kingdoms of men” as a consequence and the belief is that one day “the body of Christ” will be rulers in a “kingdom of God” which replaces all of them totally and it will be established by force when Jesus returns to the earth and will rule from the nation of Israel in Jerusalem by a system of law. Other churches and Christians historically were considered to be part of an apostasy from saving truth unless they totally have Christadelphian beliefs (which limits it to the Christadelphians in practice).
The idea of the world as understood by Christadelphians is very limited as a result of the defined and limited doctrinal basis of its counterpart, “the body of Christ”. This makes the community very insular and very highly needy of each other and creates very high status quo pressures and also very intense disputes where they occur, sometimes on issues which seem very small and unimportant to any outsiders. I remember reading about how even more intense this can be in communities which share all things in common. The rules and independent suppression of self required can be immense and when an outlet for that is established it can be pursued over vigorously and create injustices. In particular those who come adrift of the systems of church authority can be over vigorously denounced and misrepresented. A very intense and defined sense of the world therefore has the danger of creating a very highly closed system, whilst paradoxically creating strong community within in other ways.
There is huge theological depth to this topic which at this stage is beyond our ability to consider in depth.
In practical terms this means Christadelphians only believe in fully participating in the world as citizens when there is an economic necessity to do so. They do not believe in engaging in politics, in voting and most believe sitting on a jury is wrong. They will however ring the police if they get burgled, although they do not generally believe we should sue or prosecute.
The whole extended scope of the government and social state in the Western world is a challenge to the Christadelphian community with its strong belief in separation.
Whilst being separate from any sense of citizenship of the world is emphasised there is a strong anomaly with their association with the monetary benefits the world can provide in the West. In “Sects and Society” written in 1961, Bryan Wilson notes that the early Christadelphians were the poorest members of society and in fact that was part of the appeal of the kingdom to come when they would rule and he also noted that it was then changing to becoming more middle class. In the Western world this is notable. The separation from the world is not seen to be a separation from its benefits and a strong association with the poor is not there, although the community does provide considerably for its own in many ways in the West. A big challenge for the community lies in the huge demands from the third world which is where a large amount of its growth is coming from. In the West its members are often amongst the best educated and the better off, whilst in the third world it has refugees, members persecuted in Muslim countries and extremely poor adherents.
Historically Christadelphians were also fairly puritanical as a community. Enjoying worldly entertainment and having TVs was frowned on, going to the cinema and so forth was suspect too. Separation in this sense has also diminished and a book called Reformation was written by a Christadelphian writer, Harry Whittaker, considering many of these aspects in depth from a Christadelphian perspective.