As many must be aware, the brotherhood in Ontario is in something of a state of disruption. Much effort is being spent discussing, debating, and having meetings concerning the situation, which is undoubtedly detracting from time which could be spent in more spiritually profitable areas. Some ecclesias have split, with many groups and individuals moving between ecclesias because they were unhappy with the actions of the majority of their ecclesias. Some ecclesias have begun to refuse the emblems to members of ecclesias with whom they used to be associated. Furthermore, the problem has spread to Bible Schools and other gatherings, both within and outside the area. This disruption is beginning to affect the whole continent, with some ecclesias, thousands of miles away, agitating to decide on their responses to the situation. This is somewhat understandable, as little appears to be happening to resolve the situation, but is against the strong counsel of the pioneer brethren, and others, to let the local ecclesias handle the situation.1
So what are the causes of this disruption? We can here only briefly summarize a complex situation.
- A group of Unamended ecclesias (4 in Ontario, 5 in Illinois) have been welcomed into fellowship by a group of 10 Amended ecclesias in Ontario, on the basis of a document called the UA08 (Unity Agreement 2008).
- The document is largely based on a previous document called the NASU (North American Statement of Understanding), which was created in 2003 to form the potential basis of a continent wide re-union of the two communities, the “Amended” and the “Unamended”. This was rejected by the majority of the Unamended, but accepted by a majority of those Amended Ecclesias who actually voted. Thus this non-binding preliminary vote, whatever its relevance to any subsequent re-union effort, showed clearly the divide between the two communities, and the continent-wide re-union effort was abandoned.
- The UA08 has been criticized by some for its ambiguity. It is disputed whether it is equivalent to “The Biblical Principles of the Truth, of which the BASF is a true statement”. (This phrasing is the one typically used by Amended gatherings and ecclesias as their basis of fellowship.)2
- The form the UA08 fellowship practice has taken has been criticized on two main counts
- The UA08 Unamended ecclesias have continued to welcome into fellowship members of some (almost always pro-NASU) Unamended ecclesias which have not signed on to the UA08 agreement. (The UA08 Unamended ecclesias are, by agreement, not in fellowship with those anti-NASU, Andrewite, and Advocate Unamended ecclesias who have explicitly disassociated themselves from the UA08 Unamended ecclesias.)3
- These “UA08” Unamended have also not declared they are part of the larger Amended fellowship, nor have they been commended to, or welcomed by, most of the rest of the Amended ecclesias in North America.
- Some ecclesias in the area have strongly objected to both the document and the associated fellowship practice. They have taken steps to disassociate themselves from the UA08 Amended, not welcoming them into fellowship and taking steps to ensure that some joint activities, such as Bible Schools, follow the same exclusionary practice. This has begun to spread outside the area.
- Other ecclesias in the area have to date largely stood aside from this dispute, although this situation seems likely to change in the near future.
- Although the two main groups involved, the UA08 ecclesias in Ontario and a group of ecclesias known as “PTRU”4 ecclesias, have had a few meetings, of late these have devolved into exchanges of multi-page documents with no agreement at present in prospect.
More recently, the PTRU ecclesias have written letters to the committees of three Christadelphian magazines, The Tidings (NA), The Christadelphian (UK), and The Lampstand (AUS), appealing for help in mediating the dispute. As the UA08 ecclesias hold that the disagreement can be resolved locally, they did not agree for any mediation to take place. All three magazines have declined to become officially involved in any such mediation. However, they all agreed that the committee of The Tidings was in the best position to help with the situation, and some efforts have already been made in this direction. Note the committee can only consult, and perhaps in some cases advise, but we have no authority over any ecclesia or group of ecclesias. Ecclesial autonomy is to be preserved, subject only to the guidance of the local ecclesias and an appeal to the Scriptures when disputes arise. This guidance is based on the wise counsel of Bro. Robert Roberts to be found in the Ecclesial Guide, sections 41 and 42.
In addition to any unofficial efforts which might take place, The Tidings Committee has agreed to try to help the situation in the following ways:
- We will communicate in the future some of the significant events concerning this situation. We have, up to present, considered the situation of local concern, which should be handled locally, but the spread of the disruption outside the area has led us to reconsider.
- We will present in this magazine a series of articles, starting next month, the first one summarizing the Biblical principles behind our fellowship practice. A previous more historical and practical article on a similar vein has had widespread acceptance; this article, entitled “Fellowship Practice of Central Ecclesias”, appeared in December 2008 and is available on The Tidings website (www.tidings.org).
- In subsequent issues, God willing, we intend to cover related topics such as:
- Examples of past re-unions, to guide us as we consider the present situation.
- How to handle situations of distant ecclesias, and perhaps their members, whose actions or statements may have caused concern.
- The Biblical and practical basis of handling inter-ecclesial disputes.
The committee will also continue their un-official contacts with all the parties to the disputes, recognizing these contacts will inevitably be known to very few outside those directly involved. The time has long passed for formal presentations and the widespread dissemination of polemical material. By God’s grace and with the correct Christ-like attitudes of all involved, we are confident that a way can be found to eliminate the disruption in the area, and heal the breaches that have developed. There will be few, if any, reports of such discussions, but it is hoped that the progress that has already been made will continue. It is encouraging that some proposals have already been put forward to handle the fusing of some of the groups in a way typical of past re-unions, and we can only pray that these efforts bear fruit.
We acknowledge that all things will be resolved by our Lord at the judgment seat, which we pray will soon come. We all desire to be part of the one body of Christ; as Paul says:
I therefore… beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:1-6).
Peter Hemingray and Joe Hill, on behalf of The Christadelphian Tidings Publishing Committee
1. This topic will be dealt with further in an upcoming article.
2. Many ecclesias, both worldwide and on this continent, have ecclesial “Statements of Faith” which differ from the BASF, but are considered equivalent.
3. Unamended ecclesias that are signatories to the UA08 have declared their dissociation from such ecclesias: “A number of ecclesias have declared their rejection of NASU and of our ecclesias due to our support of NASU, finding the expressions on doctrinal issues fundamentally unacceptable. Accordingly, we are no longer in fellowship with these ecclesias… Should these withdrawing ecclesias seek fellowship with us at some future point, we would continue to view them as out of fellowship, thus requiring comprehensive discussions with them to satisfy ourselves that we are indeed walking together on a sound common scriptural basis” (http://ua08.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Unamended-UA08-Ecclesias- .pdf).
4. PTRU (Proposal to Restore Unity) was a group of five ecclesias formed when the initial UA08 proposal was adopted by four Toronto area Amended ecclesias. They came up with a proposal called UA10, which was the same as the UA08 but with two additional clarifications. This was an attempt to reconcile the difficulties that then existed doctrinally, but its adoption was superseded by other problems.