The idea of money for Christadelphians is associated with the idea of the world. This applies in two senses. Firstly their personal use of money and secondly how the community is run.
Christadelphians like other Christians believe that there are two systems in existence. The believers form part of a system they would call “the ecclesia” or the “body of Christ.” There is also a physical system which everyone else comprises they would call “the world.” In practice the idea of there being any kind of separation is theoretical. Believers are physical like everyone else and since they need money to live and food to eat they cannot get out of the physical system. This is recognised by Christadelphians who sometimes claim they are “in the world but not of it.”
The founder of the Christadelphians, John Thomas, believed that paid preaching was wrong. He had the opportunity on a number of occasions to be paid, but refused because he wanted to retain his personal independence. He believed this was one of the reasons Christianity became corrupted. He was contemptuous of paid ministers and priests and considered it a form of spiritual harlotry. He believed the combination of money and Christianity inevitably led to paid ministers doing preaching for the wrong reasons. This is not accepted by most Christians and denominations, although evidently abuses of position do happen. Many would also argue that it is not at odds with either the Bible or Christian tradition. As a result, however, the Christadelphians have developed as a lay community without any paid forms of ministry.
Paid preachers however are not the only way money is involved with communities or the only way that “worldly” and “spiritual” concerns get mixed. From its early days the transfer of money in the community happened. Often this was benevolent. Collections were taken for members in difficulty elsewhere. Homes for older members have been set up. Funds for book printing have needed to be established and eventually a paid editor managed the main magazine, The Christadelphian, for the community. Today it is a publishing house for the community and employs nine full and part time members of staff. Just a few years ago its editor was found to have been taking significant amounts of funds in what in practice has been the first major financial fraud the community has had.
It is undoubtedly true that having paid preachers provides some incentives to preach for the wrong motives. Many ministers of huge ministries, mega churches and TV evangelists have been revealed to get pay levels equivalent to the top executives of major companies. Sometimes they live in mansions. The messages they preach can therefore be tailored for popularity instead of unwelcome truths. Some preach gospels of prosperity. If income depends on the size of the congregation then clearly it can be difficult to keep going if folk are upset and they leave. Equally if you recruit more then income can increase. Having said that there are practical difficulties with a lay ministry. If most members have paid jobs elsewhere running the community affairs can be exhausting to do and members can fail to be as enthusiastic or energetic as a full time paid pastor. From personal experience I know some of the difficulties and inefficiencies of a committee run system.
Once a community becomes established and becomes a denomination lots of things require money and higher levels of organisation. The Christadelphians, although lacking paid ministry do have various organisations and systems which involve money and therefore large sums of money are involved and many people are directly employed by these.
These are taken from the latest submitted reports (at 2014) to the Charity Commission and are for Christadelphian organisations registered in the UK. There are many registered abroad. Although they may seem quite large sums in practice for a religious denomination they are fairly small. The organisation with the most funds by far is the Care Homes although these obviously cost a significant amount to run and have a lot of employees:
Christadelphian Care Homes
Christadelphian Bible Mission
Christadelphian Meal A Day Fund
Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association
Christadelphian Auxiliary Lecturing Society
Christadelphian Benevolent Fund
The Christadelphian Isolation League
The Christadelphian Hall and Buildings Society Birmingham
Christadelphian Advancement Trust
Most people employed within Christadelphian organisations are employed to give practical services to the members and most of these are for their Care Homes. These activities are not ones that are directly involved in preaching and therefore it is not inconsistent with the primary stance of the community. Many of the other organisations are involved with preaching such as the Bible Mission. Generally they will help with expenses, but they do not directly pay those who preach or do work. It is expected that this should be done voluntarily and without pay.
The anomaly is the Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association which has nine staff. It’s an anomaly too because the community now has a number of magazines all of which run without paid staff.
It is interesting that this is where a major Christadelphian fraud did take place and it is also interesting to consider what difference monetising a Christadelphian database has actually made. After all, this has been the criticism of having a paid priesthood.
There are potential benefits to the community just as there are with a paid ministry. A paid magazine can identify and work on larger projects than an unpaid one can. It can employ talent volunteers may lack, particularly in technical areas. This isn’t demonstrable however with the CMPA. Its readership in the UK is largely due to the fact that it was the first major magazine to exist and has historically compiled information of baptisms, deaths and other events. Although it often had a co-ordinating and leadership role this has never been official and to a large degree no longer exists today. In practice therefore it is now simply a publishing house.
The main Christadelphian magazine has changed. In presentation terms it now looks like a modern magazine and it has sought to simplify its appeal. Its writers are less accomplished than early Christadelphians and largely rehash accepted positions. In its original days it was more adversarial. It could not be separated from its fierce debates with other churches for instance. It therefore has moved to a more institutionalised position. This may also be why its appeal has diminished. It is no longer moving the community forward or actively countering contemporary threats or spearheading preaching. Its focus is existing, long term Christadelphians and a flashy cover won’t change that.
If it is to move forward then it really has to regain some of its early character and credibly answer the contemporary objections that are found for instance on websites like this one. With huge amounts of new information and perspectives now being widely shared this is a faster moving environment and it would need to address these also on the online mediums as well. It was formed in the nineteenth century when journals and magazines were the principle way to communicate over distances and that has now changed. More folk today look online and the young folk and potential new recruits will want answers to questions and issues raised online as well as how living is practically affected by the modern world.
It seems that making money to support existing staff and maintain revenues is what the emphasis has turned towards. With a declining readership that is understandable, but that represents a lack of vision and a diminishing of earlier ideals. For instance it has no links to other sites which would provide free resources to those who are looking for answers. It simply focuses on that which can be sold. A few years ago it provided Elpis Israel in the new edition for free, now it sells it online as an ebook. It provides mainstream Christian materials which can be purchased cheaper online from Amazon. It still sells books from its former disgraced editor including one titled, “The Beauty of Holiness.” If it is to retain a useful purpose to the community the continued employment of staff has to play a secondary role to its earlier principles that the gospel having been freely given should be freely transmitted. That is acknowledgedly hard for existing staff, but in a large community where the intention is to “love each other as themselves” and they are “members one of another” surely there are ways to help each other through that.
Here is a segment from their statement to the Charity Commission:
The trustees recognise their duty to identify and review risks to which the charity is exposed and to ensure appropriate controls are in place to provide reasonable assurance against fraud and error.
The identified risks in recent years have been
(a) a reducing readership within the Christadelphian community of magazines and books;
(b) extended production times for new publications due to other company activities; and
(c) the holding of large stocks of books and pamphlets which may take many years to sell.
Recognition of these risks has encouraged the trustees
(a) to continue to review the format and contents of the magazines with a view to increasing their appeal;
(b) to examine carefully the publication of new books and re-prints which are most likely to appeal to Christadelphian readers;
(c) to establish and fulfil firm publication dates for new material;
(d) to use appropriate printing methods to limit, without extra unit cost, the number of copies printed in order to provide stocks equivalent to no more than 5 years projected sales;
(e) to diversify into the production and distribution of electronic media, including making available valuable archival material;
(f) to seek ways of increasing the efficiency of production, sales and distribution; and
(g) to improve the marketing and ordering facility by means of an effective website that provides a facility for online purchasing and payment by credit card.
These are conservative objectives and the Christadelphian community was not formed on the idea of “risk management.” It was about proclaiming the true gospel at personal risk and personal cost. Sure risk from a charity commission perspective means using donated funds wisely, but in a Christadelphian context that means a commitment to truth, principles and veracity of preaching have to come first.