The Current Situation in Ontario
In a previous article (Tidings, September, 2012) we described some of the back- ground to what was then a somewhat confused fellowship situation in Ontario. Over a year has now gone by, and some things have changed, but the situation is far from resolved. As a result, several ecclesias around the continent, and even some overseas, have developed their own reactions to the situation. Whether or not, in all cases, the ecclesias involved have knowledge of all factors and all current developments in Ontario when they make these decisions is unclear.
On the surface little has changed, but there have been many discussions and several initiatives attempting to resolve the situation. Despite these on-going attempts, there is still division in the Body of Christ (contrary to the exhortation in 1 Corinthians 1:10) and frustration over the apparent lack of progress has caused difficulties at several Bible Schools, camps, and other gatherings. Many (but not all) such occa- sions, well attended in the past, have noted a considerable fall-off in their attendance, which some have attributed to the disruption being experienced in the province.
There have been some fairly recent changes, however:
- One ecclesia (Toronto Church Street) — which was one of the four original Amended ecclesias that signed the UA08 agreement, and then like all four paused the implementation — decided to resume implementation (as the Toronto East Ecclesia did several years ago).
- Two other ecclesias (Kitchener/Waterloo and Shelburne) declared their ac- ceptance of the UA08 ecclesias.
- There continues to be movement of brethren and sisters among various ecclesias, at least some prompted by the disruption in the fellowship situation.
- Two main initiatives have been publicly presented, to be discussed below.
- An all-Ontario Conference has been arranged, also discussed below.
The divided province
There are essentially five groups of ecclesias among the Amended ecclesias in Ontario. All (apart from the last) have a significant number of members, so there is little doubt that all need to be included in any discussions to resolve the situa- tion. The groups are as follows:
• Eleven Amended ecclesias who have signed on to the UA08 agreement, and hence are in fellowship with four Unamended ecclesias in Ontario, and five in Illinois, all nine of which have also signed the UA08 agreement. The Amended ecclesias have no fellowship with Unamended ecclesias apart from these nine. (The Illinois Unamended ecclesias in fact rarely travel to Ontario.) The Unamended ecclesias that have endorsed UA08 are at present welcoming other Unamended ecclesias that have not yet decided to join UA08, but have
accepted NASU as an acceptable clarification of the doctrines that need to be resolved. To be clear, the UA08 Unamended ecclesias have no fellowship with Unamended ecclesias that have declared that they reject the NASU and those ecclesias that accept it. We will refer to these as the UA08 ecclesias.
- Two Ontario ecclesias (Kitchener/Waterloo and Shelburne) have agreed to fellowship these UA08 Unamended ecclesias, but do so on the basis of their existing “BASF” Statement of Faith.
- Four ecclesias (Brantford, Cambridge, Mississauga West, Toronto West) are still undecided. They have arranged the all-Ontario Conference. We will refer to these ecclesias as the unaffiliated ecclesias.
- Four Ontario ecclesias (Book Road, Brant County, Hamilton MacNab, and London) have been opposed to the UA08 agreement. Recently, the Book Road Ecclesia circulated a statement of their position to all ecclesias in North America. There was a brief comment on this in the September, 2013 Tidings. The Book Road statement was subsequently endorsed by the London Ecclesia. As mentioned in the September, 2012 article, these ecclesias initially referred to themselves as the PTRU ecclesias, although they now prefer not to use the term. (Two small ecclesias, Venice, and Ancaster, have also recently associated themselves with this group.)
- There are also a number of small ecclesias, which have not been involved in any way. This is, I believe, either because of their small size or remoteness.
Efforts over the past year
There have been informal discussions between Tidings Publishing Committee representatives and each of the first four groups identified above, and also much involvement of members of the publishing committees (or associations) of the Christadelphian magazine from England and the Lampstand magazine from Aus- tralia. This has evolved into the situation where four areas of potential focus were expected to be part of any agreement:
- 1) Basis of Fellowship: A statement essentially that the BASF is recognized as both a true expression of the First Principles of the One Faith to be found in the Bible, and that it is the customary basis for inter-ecclesial fellowship throughout the Central community world-wide.
- 2) Resurrectional Responsibility: A recognition that knowledge is a major part of one of the bases for resurrection to judgment.
- 3) The Nature of Man, including Christ: A statement denying that we inherit anything from Adam other than mortality and a tendency to sin, and also asserting that Jesus had the same sin-prone nature as ourselves, but of course was himself sinless.
- 4) Implementation Plan: A statement that, at least ultimately, fellowship is to be restricted to those ecclesias that accept (1) above.
Of course, there are many ways of stating agreement with the areas above, and they should not be considered in any way the recommendations of the Tidings Committee. They simply recognize these areas as the major areas of concern that the Amended and Unamended ecclesias have about the beliefs of each other.
As many know, the Book Road Ecclesia has declared their ecclesial position, which addresses the four areas above. This was developed largely by the Book Road Ecclesia itself. In addition, the UA08 ecclesias have developed a Commendation Statement, which was designed to address the above areas as well. The Tidings Committee has considered the UA08 Commendation Statement and found that it adequately addresses the issues of concern and would be willing to publish it if it were suitably endorsed by the ecclesias in Ontario. (The CMPA and Lampstand Committees are aware of this statement, but have not declared their positions on it.) There were preliminary discussions to this end, but the unaffiliated ecclesias are leading a different approach in hopes of reaching an agreement more quickly, with a higher probability of concurrence from all local ecclesias.
The unaffiliated ecclesias have therefore decided to invite the arranging brethren from the Ontario ecclesias (only), both Amended and Unamended, to a series of meetings, the first of which is scheduled to be held by the time this article is published. They have also invited each of the three publishing committees to send an observer, and it is expected that they will do so, at least to the first meeting.
The first meeting will largely consist of three addresses, to attempt to set the framework of the effort going forward. To quote from the registration web site:
“The ultimate goal is to achieve a resolution to the current situation and have all members of the body of Christ in one worldwide fellowship. How this can be achieved and how long it might take is for all of us to determine. We are calling on every ecclesia in Ontario to join us in the pursuit of this objective, while seeking God’s blessing (Psa 127:1).”
As can be seen, the Ontario ecclesias are urgently attempting to resolve the un- settled ecclesial situation. It is to be hoped that these efforts can quickly resolve the situation in a Scriptural manner. The Central (Amended) position on disputes of any kind is that they are best handled by the local ecclesias, which have the best knowledge of both the situation and also the personalities involved. The publish- ing committees have expressed their willingness to offer counsel and advice to assist in the process.
The involvement of ecclesias in areas well remote from the local areas is rarely helpful, as they are almost certainly not as knowledgeable as the local ecclesias. If a region can attain unity on an acceptable basis,1 as was achieved most recently on the West Coast of North America, it is up to the brotherhood to accept this with gladness and work to encourage full fellowship of all the ecclesias involved.2
Peter HemingrayNotes: 1. Themagazinescanassistbyofferingtheiropinionsastowhetheranyagreementisconsistentwithworldwide beliefs and practices. 2. PCCARC (Pacific Coast Christadelphian Amended Reunion Committee) recently provided a brief update encouraging all West Coast ecclesias to continue giving our Ontario brethren the time necessary to resolve their difficult issues.