The following article was written by Dr John Thomas in “The Herald Of The Kingdom and Age to Come,” 1854, and is of interest in establishing the process which eventually resulted in the formation of the Christadelphians. It sets out a constitution established by him before the formal name, “Christadelphian,” was adopted. It sets out an open table fellowship which is not accepted by Christadelphians today, who would not embrace the following principle,
“Being the Lord’s table, and not the table of the Association, all of good report within the city or without it, who, believing the gospel of the kingdom, have been immersed, are cordially invited to worship with us.”
IN the preceding article I have shown, in the first place, what was the divine order of things in the heritages of God planted by the apostles, and ordained by them and the evangelists; and in the next place, how nearly this might be approximated in the Nineteenth Century. But it is much more easy to sketch out the plan of a solid, and substantial, and elegant fabric, than to build it; much depends upon the nature of the foundation, and the materials to be used. If the edifice be not laid in rock, and the materials be more effluent of the flesh than of the spirit, however admirable may be the plan, the structure will prove like the apples in Milton’s hell, beautiful to the eye, but ashes between the teeth.
No organization, not even an apostolic one, can work well, that is, scripturally, which is not composed of elements more zealous for the advancement of the truth, and the promotion of the glory of its divine Author, than of their own notions and exaltation. The first necessary thing is, that the members shall have become as little children, having their old Adam subdued by faith, and Christ substituted in his place by the same principle. Without this disposition, which is “peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy,” no organization could work harmoniously and efficaciously, though framed and administered by the apostles themselves. Even a bad organization with good materials would work better than a good one with a self-willed, heady, factious, and self-glorifying people. The members must all respect the apostolic teaching if they would have an organization that would be scriptural and satisfactory to all good men. This teaching says, “By love serve one another.” “Be not desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another.” “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel,” “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let his mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which (peace) also ye are called in one body; and be thankful.” “Be at peace among yourselves.” “Be all of one mind, having compassion one of another: love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.” “Let love be without dissimulation. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another. “And the great teacher, even Christ, who, though the Lord of all, humbled himself and became the servant of the least, enstamps this doctrine with the seal of his authority, saying, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
A people imbued with such doctrine as this would make work well; and indeed would get along peaceably together without any written constitution at all; because peace, and righteousness, and the law of the spirit of life, would be written in their hearts and minds. A people so disposed is the great want of our age - a people who not only believe the gospel of the kingdom, but manifest the fruit of it in their walk and conversation, to wit, “righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” It is the extreme scarcity of such that make it almost impossible to plant heritages in the land with administrations even remotely approximating to the apostolic. An association of believers is better without an eldership, than to have one made up of persons destitute of the qualifications indicated in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. All who have obeyed the gospel are not “blameless,” “watchful,” “decorous,” “given to hospitality,” “apt to teach,” “of a well regulated mind,” “judicious rulers of their own house,” and of good external report. These qualifications are as necessary as faith and obedience to the gospel; and in order that their aptness to teach may be beneficially exercised, it is necessary that “the word of Christ dwell in them richly in all wisdom.” Persons thus qualified would preside over an association of believers with great advantage all to concerned. These were the sort of persons the apostles exhort us to obey; but before we can do what they require in the premises, the right persons must be manifested. They do not exhort us to obey the incarnations of accident, or of majorities, or of party feeling; but only such as the Holy Spirit makes overseers- “able men, such as fear God; men of truth, hating covetousness.” They should be wise, not in their own conceits; this the apostle forbids: but wise in the estimation of those that be wise, and disposed to avail themselves of their services. The greatest amount of the knowledge of divine things possessed in these days is but little at best. How very minute, then, that which is little compared with this! and how little ability is there to use this small amount aright! A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It puffs up, and “lifts up with pride,” or inordinate self-esteem. It is expedient, therefore, that a newly-formed ecclesiastical association should enter upon such an arrangement as would give expression probationally to the principles set forth; that being taught by experience they may be the better able to judge of measures and of the fitness of individuals to carry them into effect with permanence.
Now, a necessity, forced by circumstances upon certain believers of the gospel, has compelled them to initiate an organization which shall favor, as they believe, the congregational worship of God in spirit and in truth, and the dissemination of “the word of the kingdom” in the city of New York. They have entered upon this arduous enterprise without conference with flesh and blood. They have seen and felt the necessity that exists, and have responded to it in the fearlessness of faith, the love of peace, the admonition of the truth, and the fear of God. It is an olive branch to all who love the truth better than themselves, but affords no scope for the unhallowed ambitions of the flesh. Approbating the principles set forth in the article entitled “Man In Society” and these “Additional Remark,” they have agreed to the following constitution, as meeting the demands of the probational situation in which they are placed. It is published here for the benefit of all who may be interested in the subject of “Church Organization,” which has been for many years a cause of much trouble to the professed friends of truth both in Britain and America. Unhappily, in modern times, about the first thing neophytes begin to do is to join battle with somebody about church government, instead of adding to their faith “goodness, and knowledge” of the divine testimony, that they may grow thereby, and become men, able to contend earnestly and valiantly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Infinitely more scriptural would it be for such to do this, than to consume their time and energies in striving against each other about place and power. A man thoroughly imbued with the truth would rather avoid these in this age than seek them. The least intrinsically deserving and qualified are, for the in most part, those who aspire after the petty distinction of place, being rarely capable of illustrating their position by the fruit of faith. They forget that we are placed here to learn obedience by the things we are called to suffer; not to “learn how to rule;” though to obey with a good grace is the first step to the commanding righteously the obedience of others. But, not to dilate more upon this point, which ought to be obvious to all, I proceed without further comment to lay before the reader the CONSTITUTION OF THE ROYAL ASSOCIATION OF BELIEVERS IN NEW YORK.
1.–THE NAME OF THE ASSOCIATION.
In the age contemporary with the apostles “Christian” was a name unappropriated by any religionists, other than the true believers who were “first called Christians at Antioch.” But in the nineteenth century, this is not the case. Every ecclesiastical association in “Christendom,” from “the Mother of Harlots” to Mormonism, the most recent of her Babylonish and adulterous generation, now appropriates the once distinctive and unblemished appellation to itself. For this reason, we conclude not to attempt to distinguish our Association by a name so universally misapplied; differing also, as we do, so essentially in faith and hope from all modern “Christian” names, sects, and denominations.
The “one faith” and “hope” we confess as “the children of the kingdom,” are royal. We believe in a Messiah, even Jesus, who shall subdue unto himself, and for his brethren, a royalty, bounded only by “the uttermost parts of the earth;” in which royalty we hope to participate, when, as Micah testifies, The first dominion shall come to the stronghold of the daughter of Zion; and the kingdom to the daughter of Jerusalem.” The apostle Peter, in writing to his Christian brethren dispersed through the provinces of Asia Minor, who also believed in this royalty, saith, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people; that ye should publish the goodness of him that hath called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Besides this, the Apocalypse affirms that the Lord Jesus has made such “kings and priests, for God to reign upon the earth;” and adds in another place, “They sat upon thrones, and judgment was given unto them: and they lived, * * * and they shall be the priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
Seeing then that it is fit that a society, or association, of whatever kind, should have a designation, and deprecating strongly the imposition of a name by which we should be characterized as the adherents of any person, however esteemed; we agree that the title of our confederacy shall express the great subject-matter of the gospel, i.e. ROYALTY. Our decision, therefore, is that our ecclesiastical union shall be entitled “THE ROYAL ASSOCIATION OF BELIEVERS* in New-York* This title is nearly equivalent to the Scripture phrase “ROYAL PRIESTHOOD,” used by Peter; that is, A Royal Order of Priests. “Royal” is a French word, from roi, a king. Anything pertaining to a king is royal. Hence an Association composed of “children of the kingdom,” who are “sons of God,” and therefore brethren of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s first born and Israel’s King, believing also the glad tidings of the kingdom, is royal; and therefore named as in the text above.
The Association is an aggregation of persons who believe “the things” covenanted to Abraham and to David, “concerning the kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ,” and have therefore been “immersed into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, whose scriptural position is defined in No. 2, DO HEREBY confederate ourselves into a visible association, for the weekly remembrance of the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread; for the celebration of the high praises of God; for the reading of the Scriptures; for the support and proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom; and for mutual assistance in time of need.
“The wisdom from above being first pure, and then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” -we cordially invite all immersed believers of the gospel preached to Abraham, Israel, and the Gentiles, by the Angel of Jehovah, Moses, Jesus, and the apostles, who are disposed to illustrate this “wisdom from above” in word and deed, to unite with the undersigned for the purposes set forth in No. 3.
Being the Lord’s table, and not the table of the Association, all of good report within the city or without it, who, believing the gospel of the kingdom, have been immersed, are cordially invited to worship with us; the only privileges withheld being a participation in the direction of our affairs, and speech without previous invitation.
“The kingdom of God” believed being “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit,” we hereby disallow the membership of our Association to any immersed believers who cannot prove that they walk as becomes the kingdom of God and of Christ.
Immersed believers of the gospel of the kingdom are admissible to membership by the unanimous consent of the Association, the absence of any objection privately stated in the presence of the applicant, who will make his application for admission to a presiding brother, or silence, being taken for consent.
The immersion of a believer of the gospel of the kingdom by a brother of our society, appointed to administer it, of itself constitutes the baptized person a member of our Association.
Our Executive is for the maintenance of decency and order in the meetings of the Association; the administration of the Supper and Baptism; attending to the admission of applicants to membership; the removal of any misunderstandings or difficulties that may arise to the hindrance of the objects of the Association; the disbursement of its contributions; and for whatever else needs to be attended to in behalf of the society.
In the heritages of God, planted by the apostles - these functions, with teaching, were distributed to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers,” “helps and directors,” endowed with certain specified natural qualifications, and appropriate spiritual gifts, “for the perfecting of them for the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the body of Christ.” These perfected saints, or holy ones perfected for the work, were the many- branched candlestick of the heritage to which the belonged. They were, collectively, the eldership or presbytery of the association, and classified by Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, as “the bishops and deacons,” or, in another place, “members in particular.” We acknowledge the desirableness of an exactly similar institution as the Executive of the Association; and could we avail ourselves of brethren possessed of the natural qualifications, specified by Paul to Timothy and Titus, in whom “the word of Christ dwelt richly in all wisdom,” we should be disposed to submit ourselves to them as “over us in the Lord;” but, seeing that at present such are not available, we agree that the executive functions of our Association shall be discharged as follows:
Three, four, or more, as the necessity of circumstances may demand in the unanimous estimation of the brethren, shall be selected because of their scriptural intelligence, good qualities and report. These select brethren shall not be regarded as “officers,” but simply as brethren in particular, specially interested in promoting the objects and welfare of the Association. After speaking of elders, called episcopoi, or bishops, i.e., overseers-Paul then proceeds to speak of others, called -diakonoi, or deacons, i.e., overseers of the poor, and of secular affairs, almoners, and etc.
Of the latter, he says: “Let these ALSO first be proved,” implying by “also” that the episcopoi, or overlookers of the flock, should be proved as well as the diakonoi, or superintendents of secular affairs. These select brethren of our Association may therefore be considered, not as “bishops and deacons,” but as probationers, who may or may not become official.
One of these brethren shall preside in rotation at the meetings of the Association for the breaking of bread and mutual edification. He will regulate the meeting for breaking of bread, according to No. 11, and will be careful to see that “all things be done decently and in order,” as there prescribed.
If any applications for admission to membership, or for baptism, be made upon his day, or during the ensuing week, it will be his duty to ascertain the candidates’ fitness in the presence of one or more. He will then make report of such fitness to the Association at its ordinary session, and during the “contribution;” and, if there be no objection, admission to membership shall be expressed on the following Lord’s day, by the presiding brother extending to the accepted the right hand of fellowship for the whole. If the application be for baptism, then the subject’s fitness being ascertained, the presiding brother shall administer it, or provide for its administration. At the conclusion of the meeting, he will announce the brother whose turn it will be to preside at the next assembly.
In Ecclesiastes it is written, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few.”
The Apostle James also saith: “Be swift to hear, and slow to speak, slow to wrath.” Yet it was said to certain of old time “perfected for the work” by the Spirit: “Ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.” “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” Exhortation is, therefore, a part of prophesying, and, in being attempted, must be done without debate “to the edifying of the Church,” or not at all. Hence, the Apostle saith, speaking to the prophesiers, “Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church;” and to all members in particular, “Let all things be done unto edifying.”
We understand from these and other portions of the Word, “that it inculcates much thought and few words. Exhortation is hortatory instruction of a consoling character, founded on the testimony of God. We expect therefore, that those who “exhort” will first call our attention to some portion of Scripture by reading it, then show us the interpretation of what he has read, and afterwards bring it home to us in words of kindness, for our edification and comfort. To open a masked battery upon brethren is not “exhortation,” and, being neither courteous nor christian, wilI not be allowed, but will be the duty of the presiding brother to stop it immediately, by rising and politely inviting such offender against good manners to take a seat. “Let thy words be few.” In consenting, therefore, to suffer prophesying from uninspired men of ordinary talents and information, brethren will be expected to restrict themselves to fifteen minutes at most, unless at the discretion of the brother who presides.
If “Christ dwell in our hearts by faith,” the Spirit of Christ will be there; and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” or freedom from the dominion of the flesh, which is sin. Difficulties arise from the absence of this Spirit in one or both. It is the duty of brethren not to burden others with their misunderstandings, but to settle them before sundown by themselves. But if this cannot be effected, let them invite a brother to assist them in a return to oneness of mind. If the matter can by no means be reconciled, the case may then be referred to one of the select brethren, who, alone, or assisted by the other select brethren, shall labor to restore harmony without laying it before the Association. If this cannot be effected, the case may be reported to the Church, and we agree to withdraw the privileges of our society from the party who shall be manifestly in the wrong.
After the custom of those instructed by the Apostles, the Association will convene for worship on the first day of the week. The members being assembled, the brother whose turn it is to preside will take the chair, and invite us to unite with him in invoking the blessing of the “Father of Lights,” and his acceptance of our spiritual sacrifices in the name of Jesus Christ, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. After this the presiding brother will invite us to sing a portion selected from the Psalms of David or the “Paraphrases,” which may be proposed by himself, or by some other of the brethren, as he may prefer. The singing being ended, Scripture-reading will commence. A portion should be read from each of these four divisions: First division, from Genesis to Job, inclusive; second, from Psalms to Malachi, inclusive; third, from Matthew to Acts, inclusive; and fourth, from Romans to Revelation, inclusive. The presiding brother may distribute the reading among the best readers, reading a portion also himself according to his discretion. The four divisions are each to be read continuously to the end, beginning with the first chapter of Genesis, the first Psalm, the first chapter of Matthew, and the first chapter of Romans. After the reading, singing as before. A contribution will then be taken up, to defray whatever expenses may be incurred in carrying out the objects of the Association. The admission of members will be attended to at this juncture, according to Nos. 7, 8, 4.
The presiding brother will then proceed to the breaking of bread, any brother he may call upon being the medium of its distribution, he will remind the brethren of what it celebrates-as, the love of God, the self- sacrifice of Jehovah’s King for the saints, and for the world of which Abraham and He, and we with them, are all the heirs, and c. He will then give thanks for the things memorialized by the bread, or invite some other so to do. After its distribution, he will proceed in like manner with the wine.
When the wine is returned to the table, he will state how much time remains for the continuance of the session, and that it can now be occupied by expositions of the Word to edification according to No. 9. When these are finished, the meeting may be concluded with singing and prayer. This order may be succinctly Stated as follows:
1. Prayer by the presiding brother.
3. Scripture-Reading:a. From Genesis to Job.
b. From Psalms to Malachi.
c. From Matthew to Acts.
d. From Romans to Revelation.
5. Contribution, and Reception of Members, if any.
6. Breaking of Bread, andc
7. Exposition of the Word to edification.
HENRY 0. BENNETT.
***The four with this sign affixed to their names consented to act as “select brethren” to carry out the constitution they have subscribed.
FORM SUBSCRIBED BY MEMBERS ADMITTED SUBSEQUENTLY TO THE FORMATION OF THE ASSOCIATION.
We, the undersigned, having duly examined the Constitution recorded in this book, in subscribing our names do thereby attest, that the position defined in No. 2 is ours; and that we approve and accept of its provisions, and are determined to abide by them, and to use our influence in causing them to be respected.