C H R I S T A D E L P H I A N R E S E A R C H
The General Structure of Christadelphian Meetings
This page describes the
general structure that Christadelphian church
services (or meetings) take. The actual arrangements are dependant on each congregation since there are no specific denominational requirements. In many cases the format of the main meetings are written into constitutions and to change requires the express agreement of a majority of members at organisational meetings known as “business meetings.”
Despite the freedom to make changes, adherence to formal arrangements is commonplace. A lot of this is due to a tradition that dates back to the congregational style typical at the time it was founded and set out historically in a document called the Ecclesial Guide.
The meeting places or “halls” themselves are usually simple and the idea of images, icons or religious trappings is rejected. They are what would be described as low church and the ideas of carvings, ornate church fitments, works of arts, candles, incense and so forth as aids to worship are ones Christadelphians feel uncomfortable with. Much of this goes back to the independent church traditions it came out of and the Puritan idea that is strong in independent churches that such things smack of idolatry. It is also a consequence of the idea that the only way to raise our thoughts to heavenly things comes through talks using the Bible and Biblical study. Occasionally a hall may have a picture on the wall considered educational (such as that of a future temple detailed in Ezekiel 40). It is also common to put up a few flowers and a cover may be put over the “memorial meal.” That’s about the limit and more than that is seen to be a distraction to formal Bible teaching which is thought to be the only method by which we can gain knowledge or a feeling of closeness to God. A few, having originally been churches prior to being purchased or used by the Christadelphians, may have some existing elements retained in the building structure such as a stained-glass window.
The setup commonly follows a structure that is illustrated by the picture above. A “president” chairs the meeting and introduces hymns, prayers, any announcements and also the speaker. The meetings generally focus around a talk by a speaker who stands on a stage with a lectern to deliver a “lecture” or “exhortation.” The audience is seated and is generally uninvolved other than formal participation in singing hymns and standing to pray. There is usually little scope for spontaneity of emotion, expression or the chance to raise questions or thoughts in the meeting itself, although there is usually some opportunity afterwards once it has ended.
The hymns are usually the formal kind historically sung in many churches which were originally written in what is called an SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) format designed for communal participation. There is a movement in some places towards more expressive styles of music and a Christadelphian hymn book called Praise the Lord has been compiled which uses music more similar to what most evangelical churches use today. For that reason, it is viewed by some congregations as suspect, but in practice almost all Christadelphian music originates from other churches and little has been written by Christadelphians themselves. To ensure they are compliant with Christadelphian doctrines some of the original wording has often been adapted to fit.
It is fairly common practice to have at least three formal meetings a week, although this isn’t a fixed rule and is numbers permitting. There are two on a Sunday and one in the week. In addition, there may be meetings for a youth group and a Sunday School. The main congregational meeting is a “memorial meeting” which is also called the “breaking of bread.” This is a simple sharing of bread and wine (known as “the emblems.” The bread represents the body of Jesus and the wine his blood, and it is a ceremony to follow the request that Jesus gave to remember him. This is usually limited to Christadelphians, a practice known as closed communion. They believe other Christians as well as those who don’t believe or are not baptised should not partake because they believe it should only be for “true Christians.” This is one reason why when you enter a Christadelphian meeting room, your first point of contact will normally be a welcome at the door by someone who has the job of “doorkeeper.” The other is to welcome you - none of this is intended to offend. Unfortunately visiting Christians sometimes do not have all the detail explained to them and can be offended by being excluded from the remembrance thinking they have entered a church “welcome to all” as outside notices often state.
There is also usually a Sunday “public address” originally intended for those who aren’t Christadelphians, although in practice there are rarely many “visitors.” However, it also serves a role for unbaptised children of Christadelphians who are often expected to attend. The midweek meeting is commonly called the “Bible class.” There is freedom to organise non-formal meetings, but the formal arrangements and schedules tend to eat up most of the time of the members, particularly for those who are working or with families. This is due not only to the time taken attending, but also because the members fulfil all the roles clergy do in other churches. Religious life can be largely taken up by organised formal schedules and the planning for them. It can be rather a dry and duteous way of running things, but works well on a procedural level and can in practice be difficult to change. For those involved it is often lightened up by social invites as well as social activities in members’ homes.
You will notice in the picture above that the adult women are wearing head coverings. This is a requirement most meetings expect from those who have become Christadelphians, although it is not formally written into the statements of faith. It is also not expected of visitors. Most of the roles will also be carried out by the men. Men will give the talks, give the prayers, give the announcements and carry the “emblems” (the bread and wine).
There is not a separation of clergy and laity. This means the speakers are not formal leaders of the other members. In fact, the general setup was designed to be egalitarian and non-hierarchical. Members who feel able, therefore, take turns to speak, although they are usually restricted until they are considered to have sufficient knowledge and experience. This means in some small meetings a few brethren speak on a regular basis. In bigger meetings people get more variety. In addition, “speaking brethren” from one congregation speak at other congregations and are usually given the costs involved in travelling. Some speakers are better than others and, as a result, “good speakers” do get more recognition, prominence and invites. This especially occurs at large inter-church events which are called “fraternal gatherings” and Christadelphian Bible schools. Some attempt to try and raise the overall quality of speaking was attempted historically by those less experienced being critiqued at “mutual improvement classes” after giving talks, although the practice has declined.
Adherence to a set speaking style is common place in the Christadelphians. Although not specifically required, it is generally expected that those speaking should back up their remarks by proof texting and focusing on Bible texts. To those who are uninitiated, and even for many who are, such talks can be hard to be able to follow as a result. There is little emphasis on trying to connect with the audience, rather the emphasis is on the specific meaning of individual words and texts. In addition, many speakers jump around scripture, and without a comprehensive understanding of context it is hard to really tell if it is consistent with what the speaker is seeking to prove. This is especially difficult when reference to root meanings is brought up, because few have the knowledge of the semantic pragmatics of ancient languages to really be able to assess such arguments. The tendency is therefore to baffle and bore rather than generate interest and enlighten. There is a strong desire to avoid any kind of emotionalism, “evangelical” type of behaviour and face any suggestion that talks are focusing on feelings, humanism or are insufficiently well proven. Quoting many texts is seen as a sign that study has been well done and the message is Biblical. These are the social pressures which are at play and ensure a remarkable degree of similarity of approach.
VIEW THE MIND MAP
PAGE VISITS FROM 16/09/13
THE TRINITY HURDLE
NOVEL: HOLY BIBLE
You lay a great stress upon facts throughout your letters, and are incessant in your demand that I should attend to them. This is good; but facts have to be rightly put together, and then you must have all the facts. I do not think you put the facts rightly together, and you leave out some, I am sure.
(Robert Roberts, a Christadelphian Pioneer, quoted
by Ruth McHaffie in Brethren Indeed)
The Spirit of liberty, based upon the law of faith, is the Spirit of Christ; and this spirit all the Sons of God are privileged to possess, and having it, to breathe. I claim the right of exercising this privilege, as well as my contemporaries; and I require of them that they should do to me as once they loudly required others to do to them…
(written by John Thomas, the founder of the Christadelphians, when he was against creeds in
The Apostolic Advocate magazine, August 1836)
(John Thomas, from Apostacy Unveiled, p. 137,
quoted in The Christadelphian Magazine, January 1906)
Must a man never progress? If he discovers an error in his premises, must he for ever hold to it for the sake of consistency? May such a calamity never befall me! Rather let me change every day, till I get right at last.
(from a letter written by John Thomas in 1848, quoted by Robert Roberts, in Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work)
Do what is right; be valiant for the Truth; teach it without compromise, and all lovers of the Truth will approve you. For all others you need not care a rush!
(from a letter written by John Thomas to Robert Roberts and published in The Christadelphian magazine, February 1866)