One of the things that really impressed me when I was introduced to the Christadelphians over 30 years ago, was the fact that this group of men and women had been held together for over 150 years, not by a institutionalized type of religion, but by a common bond as found in the Scriptures. It was the recognition of a rediscovered truth, that held this little group of Bible students together from all around the world. And if there were no core value of truth among this group, it could never have held together so long, without a paid ministry. Core values have always been a critical piece of what keeps us together as brethren and sisters worldwide.
So what are core values?
The Macmillan Dictionary defines it this way — core values are the most important beliefs of a person or a group, they form the foundation on which people perform work and conduct themselves. Core values are a person’s driving force, which influence all their actions and reactions. Core values are critical not only in our personal lives, but the life of our ecclesia and the brotherhood as a whole.
The analogy of a three-legged stool
The more I thought about it, the more the analogy of a three-legged stool came into mind. A three-legged stool is unique in that it has a special design feature that keeps it from falling over. The three legs ensure that it will never wobble even on uneven ground. That’s why farmers originally used the three-legged stool to milk their cows. It’s the dynamic integrated nature of these three legs that make it sturdy, even on uneven surfaces. All three legs play an integral part; take away one leg and the chair collapses. This three-legged stool also has something very critical in its design called the center securing piece. It is a ring or joining piece that “holds” the three legs together. The “critical link” in our analogy, is simply the “bigger picture” which holds our core values together. In everything that we do in the brotherhood, we need to be cognizant of the greater good of the brotherhood and it’s development as a family of God — that’s the BIGGER picture! Paul exhorts us: “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor 10:31). Let us never forget this principle in our dealings with each other.
So what are the cores values that have held us together for so long?
For simplicity sake, I’ve boiled it down to three core values:
“The Royal Law of Love,” as James calls it (James 2:8).
“The Great Commission” to which we’ve been called (Acts 1:8).
And our beliefs, as summarized in our “Statement of Faith.”
That’s what has held this little group of Bible students together for over 150 years. So lets look at these core values a little closer.
Core Value #1 — “The Royal Law of Love”
James exhorts us: “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (James 2:8). Why is it called “The Royal Law” and what makes it one of the three pillars of our Christadelphian core values? The word “royal” is a Greek word which signifies “belonging to a king” and as a “royal law,” it expressed a chief governing principle; in other words, it over-ruled all the other laws. Therefore love and not partiality should become the governing factor in a life in the truth. That’s what James’ argument is all about in this chapter.
There is a lovely string of verses I like to use when speaking about “The Royal Law of Love.”
“Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col 3:14). The word “bond” is that which binds together in a bundle. Love is the binding power that holds the whole body of Christ together. The tendency of any body of people is sooner or later to fall apart. Love is the bond that will hold them together in an unbreakable fellowship.
“Above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover the multitude of sins” (1Pet 4:8). Love, says Peter, “hides a multitude of sins.” John points out to us in that “We love him (God), because he first loved us” (1John 4:19). It’s much easier to be patient with our own children than with the children of strangers, therefore we can forgive them because we love them. So it should be with our fellowmen. Our love should forgive others of their sin towards us, as we would have God forgive us. If we love others, God will overlook a multitude of sins in us.
The Lord lays down another commandment — “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). “By this love” shall all men know that you are my disciples. Jesus is laying down his farewell commandment to his disciples and he exhorts them that “By this love,” people will recognize that they were the true disciples of the Lord. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Gal 5:14), and in doing this, “ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture” (James 2:8).
Core Value #2 — “The Great Commission”
The Lord lays down his final commission for his disciples, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The commission of Acts extends unto us and contains Christ’s marching orders for his ecclesia.
Let us note certain things about a “witness.” A witness is a man or woman who says “I know this is true.” In a court of law, a man cannot give evidence by way of a carried story; it must be his or her own personal experience. A witness does not say “I think so,” but must say “I know so.” Isn’t it interesting that one of the Greek words for “know” is ginosko, which means “knowing by an experiential knowledge.” Jesus taught his disciples that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Making God real in our lives makes us an effective witness. A real witness is not one of words, but of deeds. The best leaders lead by example. Finally the word “witness” is the Greek word mar’-toos, and that’s where the English word for “martyr” comes from. A witness has to be ready to become a martyr, loyal to the cause no matter what the cost. That’s the calling to which we’ve been called. We’ve been given a great commission to share our hope, and it’s one of the three core values that keep us together as a worldwide ecclesia.
Core Value #3 — Our beliefs, as summarized in our “Statement of Faith”
We learn that:
“…they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42).
So how do we define our Christadelphian faith? The grounds of our beliefs are founded in the inspired word of God, and that’s what has kept our community together for over 150 years. But many churches around us who arrive at radically different conclusions have also quoted the Bible. So what we need to help us clarify what the Bible teaches, is our statement of faith. It’s taking Scripture and putting it side by side with our understanding of it that makes up our statement of faith.
The doctrine of the apostles is described as “the first principles of Christ” and it is a sure foundation on which Christian lives can be built. “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” (Heb 6:1). No teacher would ever get anywhere if he had to lay the foundations all over again every time he began to teach. So the writer to the Hebrews says that people must use the “first principles” as a building block to go on to “perfection.” But you need the “first principles” in the first place. From the earliest days, Christadelphians have described their understanding of “first principle” Bible teachings as the basis of their fellowship together.
As the years passed in the history of our community, certain challenges arose to our first principle Bible teachings, therefore the summaries of gospel truth were refined, usually with the object of clarifying our brotherhood’s beliefs. For over 150 years, our “Statement of Faith” has been accepted as a faithful summary of Bible teaching “concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). This summary first formed the Statement of Faith of the ecclesia in Birmingham, England, and was quickly and widely used as a model by other ecclesias for their own statements of faith, and became known as the BASF (Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith). It was comprised of three parts: The first part lists the foundational Bible teachings believed by Christadelphians, the second part lists teachings widely accepted in the religious world that are not supported by the Scriptures. And finally the third part contains the Lord’s commandments for daily living.
A faithful definition
Even though each ecclesia has its own Statement of Faith (sometimes with wording produced locally), ecclesias are part of the Central fellowship because they recognize the BASF as a faithful description of the one faith. It is therefore a very serious matter if a brother or sister cannot accept the teachings listed in the statement of faith. We do not simply accept that these doctrines are based on the Scriptures, but that they are first principle teachings, and therefore provide solid ground on which there can be fellowship with other believers. We do not fellowship:
Anyone who believes differently about these critical teachings.
Anyone who does not treat them as first principles.
Anyone who wants to add further doctrines as tests of fellowship.
Our focus should be firmly based on the Bible teachings that are listed in the Statement of Faith, more than on the words that have been selected to describe those teachings.
In summary, hopefully our brief look at the core values that have driven our brotherhood over 150 years, may awake a response in all of us to appreciate the great value of the Christadelphian basis of fellowship, for it unites ecclesias and their members all over the globe. By living our lives according to the “royal law of love,” may we influence and help others towards God’s Kingdom as our Lord did. By proclaiming the “Good news of the kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ,” may we be remembered in turn when our Lord returns. By adhering to our established and well-documented set of fundamental teachings, as summarized in our Statement of Faith, there can be fruitful cooperation and joyous service as together we form one body made up of many different parts. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.”
Peter Dulis (Toronto West, ON)