The Power of Redemptive Love
My story with the Christadelphians centres round the fact that in 1994 I ‘married out’ to a Christian whose doctrinal beliefs in some areas are not quite the same as my own, and as a result of this there was the inevitable knock-on effect which this situation had on my membership with the Christadelphian movement.
My connection with the Christadelphian movement goes back many years, to when I was 16. I am from an unbelieving home, but I became a Christian aged 15 through learning the synoptic gospels at school. It was the parable of the sower which spoke to me; I so wanted to be the ‘good ground’ and to have the ‘ears that hear.’ I joined the Christian Union, then a charismatic Methodist church, on the recommendation of my religious education teacher who was a born-again Christian. I requested baptism by full immersion which my Methodist minister was pleased to arrange and do in a Baptist church.
However, after about a year I was searching for more depth of teaching, and while out shopping one day, I was handed a flyer to visit ‘The Bible Exhibition’ presented by the Christadelphians, which I gladly went along to. I was so impressed by the prophecy stand that I signed up for Christadelphian Bible classes. I was the only one to sign up, so I got personal tuition in the Scriptures from a lovely brother and sister who gave me classic Christadelphian ‘instruction,’ starting at Genesis, and very soon I was eager to become a Christadelphian and join an ecclesia.
As it turned out, I didn’t become a Christadelphian at that time. The problem was that as part of the traditional Christadelphian initiation ritual, I was required to be re-baptised, and at that time I was not prepared to do this. For me, as a 16 year old, my first baptism only a year earlier was totally valid.
So I drifted away, and eventually I became back-slidden from the Lord altogether.
However, during the Gulf War at the age of 30, I decided I should really get my life back on track, so I went to my local Christadelphian ecclesia and requested baptism (15 years after my first baptism). Although in some ways re-baptism is a questionable practice, for me it was a personal choice and I desired it due to having been back-slidden; a fresh start and fresh commitment to God was just what I needed. In many ways, this was my real ‘conversion.’ However, I have wondered in the past what path my life would have taken had I been accepted into the Christadelphian community aged 16 without the pressure to be re-baptised so soon after my first. But I will never know, so best not to dwell on it or go there.
I was a member of my local Christadelphian ecclesia for about three years before I resigned to ‘marry out.’ A major turning point (as recent as last year) was when I acknowledged that my three years in Christadelphia were actually very unhappy. I was in denial about this for a long time. After my Christadelphian baptism I was overjoyed at being in fellowship and being in a right relationship with God during those first few months, but it gradually went pear-shaped for me when an elderly brother dying of cancer attached himself to me emotionally. There was nothing untoward or sinful in this relationship, but I found it very difficult to navigate this role which was emotionally draining, and in many ways I found it quite damaging. It caused me lots of problems. I have now achieved closure on this sad episode, and in his pain and suffering this elderly brother desperately needed someone to share some very personal issues with before he fell asleep, so I have come to a place of accepting what happened. I now consider it a privilege that he shared his sad story with me, which is a sacred thing for anyone to do on such a personal and emotionally intimate level.
The hub of my issue with the Christadelphian movement was the ‘closed table,’ because having ‘married out’ to a Christian, we both desired to break bread together as husband and wife. Around 2005 I talked my situation through on-line with some very patient Christadelphians who were very caring, sympathetic and concerned, but who had no real solution to my problem because they could simply offer none, and eventually a sister accused me of marrying out ‘for what? For love!’ And hurtful as that comment was at the time, looking back, I am still mystified as to what was wrong with marrying someone ‘for love’ – don’t even Christadelphians do the same?
I have found, however, some Christadelphians who are quite happy with sharing bread and wine with non-Christadelphians in certain settings – and indeed over the years I learnt of several Christadelphians which have done so. I have met Christadelphians who told my husband they would be willing to break bread with him personally; yet collectively as a movement there is a different attitude and practice. This incongruity between personal conscience and that of collective conscience is interesting, and one which there could well be a valid explanation for. I also feel that the basis of fellowship for open communion is one of shared need, rather than the clinical purity of theological correctness.
Here I should add that in fairness to the Christadelphian movement, I must concede some positive benefits to the closed table – sharing communion in an exclusive setting promotes a genuine sense of real relationship and fellowship between believers, and we should always bear in mind that liberalism can be legalism in another form, however the closed table based on doctrinal purity can be a false unity because the focus is centred on man-made interpretation of Scripture, rather than the human need for forgiveness and spirituality.
I resigned my membership in order that we could go elsewhere to a fellowship which practised open table and would welcome us both. Had I not resigned, I would have eventually been disfellowshipped for non-attendance anyway (which is fair enough in some ways, though only God can ever truly ‘disfellowship’ at the judgement), because neither myself nor my husband would have been happy going our separate ways on a Sunday morning and suffering the pain of being polarised by Christadelphian practice. We chose to celebrate unity in our uniqueness through the love which God had given us.
My total closure on the whole of my Christadelphian background came mid 2010 as I began to see the absolute total power of redemptive love manifest through Christ and His finished work on the cross, to which I can add nothing. He has done it all; no amount of doctrinal correctness will earn me – or anyone else – anything in God’s eyes. This is not to say I am not grateful for my Christadelphian background and the knowledge and truths which it has imparted to me, and it is not to say that I will never go back into fellowship (only God knows or could lead that way).
My recovery from being out of Christadelphian fellowship has been a very long drawn out process, and quite damaging emotionally and spiritually, but it began in earnest around 2003/4 when I read Dr John Thomas’ ‘Phanerosis’ and ‘Elpis Israel’ for the first time in my life, and discovered, to my surprise, major inconsistencies between what I had been taught in my ‘instruction’ and the ethos of my ecclesia and what Dr Thomas wrote. These caused me to seriously take a second look at what my beliefs were really based on, and when I saw and became aware of cracks, differences (and some were fundamental differences between sub-sects of Christadelphia) and divisions, I began to navigate and process my ‘out of fellowship’ status in a more positive manner. I also discovered that on some doctrines I had received a degree of Christadelphian ‘spin’ – for example on the trinity I was told that Trinitarians believe in ‘three gods.’ This is untrue. (Trinitarians actually believe in one god manifested in three persons – something quite different) …..and many other such things I discovered as I began to educate myself about Christadelphian history and mainstream Christian beliefs.
But the power of redemptive love in Christ is such that the ‘true’ doctrine for me now is love in action: First to God – which also means loving others who I can see – both believers and unbelievers. It is as an activist (not a theorist, or pragmatist, or a reflective naval-gazing believer, which we can all be in danger of becoming) that redeems. And redemption makes whole, restores, makes good that which is broken – and redemption is sacrificial and costs (as many Christadelphians know all too well, as do many ex-Christadelphians).
Redemptive love sees beauty in the disregarded, it gives value to what is not valued, embraces the imperfect, validates the inadequate, and gives restoration to that which incomplete – because true agape love hopes all things, believes all things and never fails.