History of the Christadelphians

Condensed version 


HISTORY OF THE CHRISTADELPHIANS

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES   (This has been condensed full version on request)

 Many believers since the apostles have held the same faith as the Christadelphians. There have been countless independent communities around the world who have eagerly studied the Bible and accepted its simple teachings.

The beliefs and practices of the Christadelphians can be traced from the New Testament to the earliest Christians of the 1st and 2nd Centuries in documents such as the Epistle of Clement, The Didache and The Apostles' Creed.

With the advent of religious freedom in Europe in the 16th Century Reformation, the same beliefs and practices resurfaced in Bible-minded groups such as the Swiss Anabaptists and Polish Socinians.

Already in 1525 we can find group of earnest, prayerful seekers, meeting in the home of the young scholar Felix Manz in Zurich, Switzerland, "pressed in heart" by the conviction of Bible truths that they had learnt, "linked themselves into a brotherhood of faith: Bruder in Christo, Brethren in Christ." "The decision was "sealed by a solemn but intimate breaking of bread".

The time was ripe for the preaching of the verities of God's Word. Convinced that every reasonable-minded man and woman would willingly choose the plain teaching of the Scriptures in place of worn-out and discredited traditions and errors of men, they began a Bible campaign that swept over all of Europe. Their deep conviction, born of keen study of the prophetic Word, that Jesus Christ would soon return and establish his millennial worldwide rule gave a powerful impetus to the witness. Within the incredibly short space of twenty years, at most, there were "Re-baptizers" everywhere.

Like rivers flowing from the Alpine watershed, this message took root in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Moravia; it flowed on eastwards to Poland, Hungary and Transylvania; westwards to the Netherlands, France, Britain, and even eventually across the ocean to the Americas. Their doings and their doctrines were recorded in German, Italian, French, Latin, Polish, Lithuanian, Czech, Hungarian, Ukrainian, English, Dutch and Flemish and are found buried in libraries and archives from the steppes of Russia to the prairies of the U.S.A. By 1545 there were whole groups of believers organised by region and language: Swiss Brethren, Czech Brethren, Polish Brethren, and so on, sometimes differing in specific aspects of doctrine and practice, but owning a common bond of loyalty to a totally Bible-based Christianity. By the end of the 16th century a network of small congregations, linked by faith and persecution, extended from the Dnieper to the Severn

 The early English Baptists held similar beliefs (although these beliefs are not held by Baptists today). In the 18th Century many leading figures in the Enlightenment such as Sir Isaac Newton and William Whiston held these beliefs.

The modern Christadelphian movement has its origin in the 1830s, an age of revival and reform in America and England.

 

JOHN THOMAS was born in Hoxton Square. London, on April 12th. 1805.

 Information concerning his ancestry is meagre, and interest centres more in his work than in his extraction. He studied medicine at an early age in Chorley and London, and contributed to The Lancet occasionally as far back as 1830. His English degree. of that year’s date, is M.R.C.S., his M.D. being an American degree of date 1848

In 1832 Dr. Thomas emigrated to America, making the passage as surgeon to the ship Marquis of Wellesley. The vessel ran ashore on Sable Island, and it was supposed she would be lost with all hands. Dr, Thomas was naturally exercised as to the future state, and finding himself in a state of hopeless ignorance on the matter, resolved, if his life should be spared. that he would end the uncertainty and search out the truth upon the matter.

On getting safely ashore he did not forget this resolution; and in the course of his travels, having been introduced to Mr. Walter Scott, of Camphellite “ associations, and by him convinced of the necessity of baptism, he submitted to immersion as an ordinance appointed of God. From this time onward be became involved with Campbellism. At Wellsburg, Va., in 1833. he made the acquaintance of Alexander Campbell.(founder of Disciples of Christ Church) and was by him constrained to speak in his meeting-place; which he did, on Daniel’s prophecies, and on the subject of The Apostasy spoken of by Paul.

In 1834 Dr. Thomas started a monthly magazine called The Aposrtolic-Advocate, in the pages of which he manifested an understanding of the Scriptures. and especially of the Apocalypse, that was rare in those times (and. indeed. in any). and gave promise of the fruit of after years. of which the book Elpis Israel is a good sample.

In 1844 he started a monthly magazine called The Herald of ihe Fufure Age, and settled at Richmond, Va., and soon after finally broke with Campbellism, the oppositions of which had done so much to force his attention to the accurate and thorough study of the Scriptures.

In 1847 he had elaborated from the Scriptures the doctrines that find such lucid and ample exhibition in Elpis Israel; and, perceiving that he had after all only just arrived at “the truth of the gospel”. he published in March, 1847. “A Confession and Abjuration” of past erroneous belief and contentions, and was re-immersed for “the hope of Israel”. which Paul preached to the Jews at Rome. About this time also he paid a visit to New York, where afterwards he was to settle. Also about this time he proposed to Alexander Campbell a full and exhaustive written discussion upon the immortality of the soul and related topics.  The proposal, however, met with so contemptuous a refusal that several of Mr. Campbell’s friends were alienated by his manner.

In 1848 Dr. Thomas visited Britain. He was deeply stirred by the revolutionary upheavals of the time, and before his departure wrote on the subject to the New York Sear, which, in publishing his letter, spoke of him as “A Missionary for Europe”, which indeed he was, but of an unusual type. Arriving at Liverpool in June, 1848, he made his way South and by a series of providences a door of utterance was opened for him by the interactions of Campbellite rivalries. He travelled through Notting’nam, Darby. Birmingham, Plymouth. Lincoln, Newark, and other places, speaking upon the gospel of the Kingdom of God as occasion offered. Afterwards he made his way to Glasgow, and lectured there, and at Paisley, attracting much attention by his expositions of the prophetic word in its bearings upon the signs of the times.

Elpis Israel itself came out of this visit, as is explained by Dr. Thomas himself in the subjoined PREFACE.

Returning to London, he occupied some months in writing Elpis Israel. and during the time attended a Peace meeting in the British Institution, Cowper Street, at which he moved an amendment to the effect that war was a divine institution in this age of sin and death, and that the coming years were by the prophetic word decreed to be a time of war”, and not “ a time of peace”. The amendment was derisively rejected; but the past hundred years have only too sadly well attested the soundness of Dr. Thomas’ views.

Having completed Elpis Israel, Dr. Thomas made a second journey through England and Scotland

After over two years’ absence from America, Dr. Thomas returned, and resumed the publication of The Herald of the Kingdom, which he continued for eleven years, until the outbreak of the American Civil War in l860-61  brought about its suspension.

In 1862 Dr. Thomas revisited Britain and found that, notwithstanding the fact that Elpis Israel had in many cases been burnt in disgust upon its receipt by subscribers, some small communities of believers of the gospel had arisen.  For the edification of these, he traveled and lectured through the country once more, returning to America shortly afterwards.

His next, and greatest and last work, was Eureka, an exposition of the Apocalypse, in three volumes (over 2,000 pages), (note now in 5 volumes) published by subscription, of which the first volume was published in 1862, and the third in 1868. It is a work which none of “ the servants of God” should fail to possess.

In 1864, as The Herald of the Kingdom had been suspended. and Dr. Thomas was engaged upon Eureka, at his suggestion The Ambassador of the Coming Age was started under the editorship of the late Robert Roberts, of Birmingham, England, who continued it (as The Christadelphian ( Magazine) to the day of his death in September, 1898.

 In Britain a journalist named Robert Roberts took up the same cause in the Ambassador of the Coming Age. Thomas and Roberts made no claims to any vision or personal revelations--only to try to be honest students of the Bible.

  When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, those Christian groups who did not fight were required to register with the Union government. Sam Coffman and other brothers in Illinois registered themselves as "Brethren in Christ, or in a word Christadelphian". This name was soon adopted by many like-minded groups of believers in America and Britain. Since then, independent Christadelphian groups have been established in countries all over the world.

The progress of the American Civil War bore hardly upon the brethren of Christ, who were found in both the opposing camps, and who abhorred the taking of the sword as a thing forbidden by their Lord and Master, whose dictum is,,’ All they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword”. In their extremity they desired Dr. Thomas to formulate some appeal to the authorities for exemption from military service on account of their conscientious objections, and subject to such conditions as might be thought fit to he imposed. To save his friends from being called Thomasites. it was necessary to adopt some distinctive name.  The name Christian, as Dr. Thomas pointed out, had been appropriated by every Anti-Christian thing under the sun, and was no longer distinctive as it was in the first century. So Dr. Thomas hit upon the name CHRISTADELPHIAN, which, after many years “earnest contention for the faith ·, conquered for itself a recognition in the allotment of about three inches of space in the Encyclopedia Britannia, after this manner .’        -

CHRISTADELPHIANS  a community founded by John Thomas (1848), who studied medicine in London and then migrated to America   There he first joined the  Campbellites ‘, but afterwards struck out independently, preaching largely on the application of Hebrew prophecy and of the language of the Apocalypse to current and future political events   In America and in Great Britain he gathered a number of adherents and formed a community which is said to have extended to most English speaking countries.  It consists of exclusive ‘ Ecclesias with neither ministry nor organization.  The members meet on Sundays to ‘ break bread ‘ and discuss the Bible.   Their theology is strongly Millenarian centering in the hope of a world-wide theocracy, with its seat at Jerusalem They believe that they alone have the true exegesis of Scripture, and that the faith of Christendom ‘ is ‘ compounded of the fables predicted by Paul  no statistics are published.”

In 1869 after the completion of Eureka, Dr. Thomas visited Britain for the last time He found that the truth had taken root through his labours, and decided to transfer his residence to England for the rest of his days. But it was  riot to be Upon his advice the name of The Ambassador was changed to The Christadelphian, which it still bears.  After traveling and lecturing among the people created by “ the truth “ Illustrated by his writings, Dr. Thomas returned to New York, but was soon afterwards attacked by illness, and died March 5th, 1871.  He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, where, by a remarkable coincidence, the late Robert Roberts. who for many years continued his work, was laid - beside him in September, 1898.